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OC Register: Angels’ Shohei Ohtani plans to finish rookie season as a hitter; no decision on surgery yet


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CHICAGO — Shohei Ohtani is not ready to have his season end on an operating table.

Ohtani said Friday that he plans to play the rest of the season as a hitter while he ponders the medical recommendation to undergo Tommy John surgery.

“Nothing is set right now,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “I have a few options out there. I am still trying to look into every single option. I will make a decision sometime toward the end of the season.”

Although Ohtani is still expected to have the surgery, pushing it back until immediately after the season tightens the timeline for him to make it back as a hitter by opening day 2019. He still could make it, but there would be less margin for error.

Ohtani, 24, said there is value in getting another three weeks worth of at-bats.

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“I feel like I’m progressing as a hitter right now, so I’m trying to gain as many experiences as I can while the games count,” Ohtani said.

Ohtani said the news that he needed surgery did not come as a total shock. After he had platelet-rich plasma and stem-cell injections in June, he said he knew “it wasn’t going to work 100 percent.”

“Somewhere in the back of my mind I was preparing to get Tommy John,” he said. “That’s something that was in the back of my mind the whole time.”

Ohtani’s reluctance to commit to the surgery is likely just a formality.  He said he does not plan to abandon his career as a pitcher, and PRP and stem-cell therapy already failed to sufficiently heal his damaged ulnar collateral ligament.

Whether he has the surgery now or in three weeks, Ohtani will not be able to pitch until the 2020 season.

The timetable for returning to hit is somewhat more difficult to pin down, although most experts believe he should be able to hit in games within six months.

Finding comps for Ohtani is difficult, not only because he’s a two-way player but also because he throws right-handed and hits left-handed.

Other position players who have had Tommy John surgery still can’t come back until they throw, because of the demands of playing defense. Also, most of them have the surgery on their throwing arm, which is the back arm in a swing for a player who hits and throws from the same side.

One recent player who provides something of a roadmap for Ohtani is New York Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres.

Torres is a right-handed hitter who last June had Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, the result a slide into home. Torres was taking batting practice four months after surgery.

If Ohtani can continue to hit while rehabbing from the surgery, it would be a significant plus for Ohtani and the Angels, taking some of the sting from the news that he won’t be able to pitch.

“I’m trying to take it as positive as possible,” he said. “I’ll still be able to hit next year, so I’ll try to stay positive.”

Ohtani is batting .287 with an on-base percentage of .367 and a slugging percentage of .579 with 18 home runs in 82 games. He went 4 for 4 with two home runs on Wednesday hours after it was announced the pitching portion of his season was over.

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