Shohei Ohtani plans to continue pitching after his recent elbow injury

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Shohei Ohtani’s agent said the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way superstar is committed to continuing his career as both a pitcher and hitter after recovering from his recent elbow injury.

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Nez Balelo said Monday that he thinks it’s “inevitable” that Ohtani will need some sort of procedure to heal the torn ligament in his pitching elbow, but they’re still gathering opinions on whether that procedure is Tommy John surgery or a non- should be surgical treatment He is heading into free agency this winter.

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“There is no doubt in his mind that he will come back and he will continue to do both, just as we have done in recent years,” Balelo said.

Balelo said Ohtani wants to continue playing as the Angels’ designated hitter this season, although he acknowledged that plan could soon change if they decide to undergo surgery early to prepare for the start of the 2024 season. Batsmen who undergo Tommy John surgery typically require six to eight months of rehabilitation before they can hit again.

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“I know one thing: No matter what schedule we’re dealing with and when we get it done, Shohei will be in someone’s line-up at DHing next year when the bell rings,” Balelo said. “We know that.”

Perhaps coincidentally, the Angels pulled Ohtani from their lineup Monday night against Baltimore, about an hour before first pitch and about an hour after Balelo spoke, citing tightness in the designated hitter’s right oblique muscles. Ohtani only missed two games all season.

“As we continue to gather information that we believe is applicable to our future … if there is anything that impacts that, we will probably make a decision,” Balelo said.

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Ohtani is the leading candidate to win his second AL MVP award in three seasons after winning 10 games on the mound and hitting 44 major league home runs.

But Ohtani’s free agency and unique value to clubs could dominate the discussion in baseball’s early offseason. Balelo isn’t sure if the injury will prevent Ohtani from pitching in 2024, but his client has no intention of sitting out the season entirely, as some have suggested as the optimal path to returning to full strength on the mound .

While Balelo spoke to reporters in a suite at Angel Stadium, Ohtani took batting practice on the field – a rarity for the superstar, who usually hits the cage before games. Along with his 44 home runs, Ohtani leads the majors with a 1.066 OPS and ranks sixth with 95 RBIs.

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Ohtani left the mound on August 23 in Anaheim during the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds, and tests quickly revealed a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. Ohtani had not complained of elbow pain in the days and weeks before, Balelo said.

Balelo said the new tear is in a different part of the ligament than the location that was surgically repaired in late 2018. That repaired spot is still strong and intact, which Balelo said is an encouraging part of a tough situation for Ohtani, who isn’t giving up pitching despite the strain on his body.

“Shohei loves to pitch and you all know that,” Balelo said. “There are probably some situations out there that we haven’t even explored yet that could probably get him back in the lineup quicker due to some kind of surgery, (but) we don’t want to create a situation that would hurt him.” We just want to make sure longevity is important because he loves to pitch.”

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Balelo also pushed back against speculation about a rift between Ohtani and the Angels, saying the club has been supportive and positive throughout the process. Both Balelo and the Angels said there was no reason to believe Ohtani was tiring while playing every day during what was a difficult August for the club.

“The word ‘fatigue’ has been misused in my opinion,” Balelo said. “He continues to feel good. He takes care of himself. No one can do what this guy does. People just assumed he was collapsing and there should have been signs for people to notice. That is not the case at all. Shohei, he’s advancing his career. He does what he has to do and he knows he has the cards to say, ‘I need a day.’ I need to take a break.’ He doesn’t do it enough because he feels like he doesn’t have to, and so we respect that.”

Balelo gave no indication that Ohtani is likely to speak to reporters again this year, and the agent said he spoke out to provide official information about Ohtani’s future and to counter what he saw as negativity surrounding that injury in the midst of the Angels’ annual struggles. It’s all but certain that Los Angeles will miss the playoffs for the sixth straight time in Ohtani’s major league career.

“We will approach free agency when it comes down to it,” Balelo said. “I’m not worried about free agency.”

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