LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida — Despite the alarming news of Shohei Ohtani’s elbow condition, at least one expert said the research suggests the Los Angeles Angels are doing the right thing with their prized new pitcher.
The Colorado Rockies recently published a study that detailed the treatment of 72 players with elbow ligament injuries. The 28 who had grade one or lesser grade two strains were treated without surgery, and 93 percent made it back to their previous level of competition for at least a year.
Ohtani reportedly has a grade one strain of his ulnar collateral ligament, which means the tissue is stretched but still intact.
“Based on that study, I would tell you Ohtani has a very good chance of coming back,” said Stan Conte, a longtime major league athletic trainer who now operates an injury analytics program.
Conte, who worked for the Dodgers from 2006-15, spoke Wednesday after reading the published reports of Ohtani’s condition. He has no independent knowledge of his medical history.
Conte said it’s important to note that this study is a small sample, and it only tracked the players for a year. The strained ligament could be a precursor to a more serious injury, perhaps one requiring Tommy John surgery, in the future. Of course, any pitcher is a candidate for future Tommy John surgery, particularly one who, like Ohtani, throws 102 mph.
Conte explained that Ohtani has the least-serious type of ligament injury.
“Grade one is obviously the best not to have surgery,” he said. “Grade three is a no-brainer, you go (for surgery). There are all kinds of variations of grade two.”
Angels general manager Billy Eppler said that the condition of Ohtani’s elbow was disclosed on the medical report distributed to all teams at the start of the courting process.
He said Ohtani underwent another exam on Dec. 7 at the Kerlan-Jobe clinic, the day before he agreed to sign with the Angels, and the club was satisfied with his condition.
Ohtani had a platelet-rich plasma injection in October, and recently resumed throwing, a process which Conte said seemed appropriate.
“It’s very reasonable to try non-surgical care,” Conte said.
Ohtani’s condition further demonstrates why the Angels are likely to use a six-man rotation this season.
Eppler, whose rotation has been decimated by injuries the last two years, said he is convinced that giving pitchers five or six days’ rest between starts, instead of the typical four or five, will keep them healthier.
Conte said the science isn’t definitive.
“We know guys who pitched on three days rest instead of four days have a higher chance (of injury),” he said.
“Intuitively, you would think five days’ rest would be better, but that’s not necessarily true. Nothing has been proven on a six-man rotation.
“I sure don’t think having extra rest is necessarily going to hurt. With all these pitchers going down with injuries, it is time to try some different ideas. A six-man rotation is one. I don’t know what else you can do. You have to think a little out of the box if you are trying to keep starting pitchers healthy.”