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OC Register: GM Billy Eppler: Shohei Ohtani rehab plan favored over surgery by medical experts

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ANAHEIM — The news of the beginning of Shohei Ohtani’s throwing program was met with excitement around the Angels and, perhaps understandably, some skepticism from outside the organization.

Since so many other pitchers have ended up having Tommy John surgery eventually after attempting to come back via stem-cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma injections, some believe the team should simply have Ohtani have surgery now.

General manager Billy Eppler responded to that notion on Friday, saying that their doctors at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic have assured them this is the best decision at this time.

“I can tell you the consensus among that group is to never push a player into surgery,” Eppler said. “I have to take the advice of people who spent a lot of time and money getting those degrees.”

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Eppler also reiterated that so far no doctor has even presented surgery as one of the options for Ohtani, who was diagnosed last month with a grade 2 sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament. An MRI exam after six weeks of treatment revealed he’d healed enough to resume throwing.

Certainly, it’s possible that this throwing progression will lead to surgery, but the Angels won’t know that until it happens. Whether he has surgery now or in October, he’d still be out until the 2020 season. It would be worse for him to spend all winter resting his arm, then test it in spring training and need surgery then. He’d miss most of two seasons.

For now, the Angels are still hoping he can avoid surgery entirely.

Ohtani played catch for a second day in a row on Friday. If all goes well, based on a normal throwing progression and the time Ohtani has missed, he could pitch for the Angels by the beginning of September.

“We do anticipate him pitching for us this year, if everything in his rehab goes as planned,” Manager Mike Scioscia said Friday.

That rehab is still somewhat fluid. As long as Ohtani is just playing catch, it won’t interfere with his routine as an active hitter in the lineup. Once he has progressed to pitching off a mound or facing hitters in simulated games, he will be limited in the days he’s available to hit, just as he was before he got hurt.

One complication is that Ohtani won’t be able to leave the team for a minor league rehab assignment, since he’ll remain on the active roster as a hitter. The Angels can set up simulated games at Angel Stadium or wherever the team is playing on the road.

“We’re excited about him hopefully starting that journey to getting back to pitching,” Scioscia said. “We’re encouraged with this step, but obviously there are some hurdles he’s going to have to get over before throwing in a game, but hopefully we’ll continue to get good news as he goes through his progression.”


Albert Pujols (knee) is still scheduled to come off the disabled list when he’s eligible on Monday, Scioscia said. …

René Rivera (knee) has hit a snag in his rehab from surgery. He is eligible to come off the disabled list now, but he’s not ready. “Right now he’s making progress, but it’s certainly not at the pace you would have hoped to see,” Scioscia said. “It doesn’t mean he’s not going to be able to come back.”…

Jim Johnson (back) is scheduled for a third rehab outing, and second in two days, on Friday night. …

Nick Tropeano (shoulder) will be activated to return to the rotation on Saturday afternoon. Tropeano said he expects to be limited to around 90 pitches initially. “The way Nick was throwing the ball, it’s going to be a big boost for us to get in there and pitch the way he was before he was shut down,” Scioscia said.


Angels (Nick Tropeano, 3-4, 4.83) vs. Astros (Justin Verlander, 9-5, 2.29), 4 p.m., Fox, KLAA (830 AM)

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