ANAHEIM, Calif. — It has been 12 days since the Angels announced that Shohei Ohtani had a UCL tear in his pitching elbow that would end his season on the mound. The two-way star has, thus far, declined to address his injury or his future.
There have been so many questions associated with the injury, combined with his impending free agency. It’s almost as though he’s held the baseball world hostage, searching for morsels of information about the game’s best and most interesting player.
Finally, the silence was broken on Monday afternoon. Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, spoke with local reporters and Japanese media about Ohtani’s injury and his future. He spoke for about 25 minutes, filling in some of the gaps while at the same time creating new questions.
Balelo spoke prior to Ohtani being scratched from the lineup due to what the Angels announced was right oblique tightness.
Here’s a full transcript, which has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Shohei Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, said he anticipates Shohei Ohtani needing a procedure. He wouldn’t say if it’s TJ.
He said Ohtani plans to DH throughout next season, and doesn’t believe a procedure would prohibit him from DHing.
— Sam Blum (@SamBlum3) September 4, 2023
First of all, I know we probably all have recordings. I wanted to go off-record a little bit. But it’s OK, just disregard this as on-record, what I’m about to say.
The reason I wanted to do this was just to try and clear a little bit of the air. There’s been a kind of a negative narrative out there when the Angels made the announcement. I understood why they needed to do it. That Shohei had a tear and that he was going to miss the rest of the season pitching. Since then, the club hit the road. And this was kind of our first opportunity.
I spoke with him, I told him I was going to address the media. But I wanted to keep it more localized, and I wanted a lot of the people here that follow him on a daily basis. I wanted to show you all the respect, instead of doing a one-on-one with a maybe a national guy. Or do something that would kind of take away from the respect level that I have for all of you.
We all, the last six years, have been a part of his growth. And have seen Shohei go from so many different levels. It’s kept people employed. People have benefitted from it. There have been things written. There’s a lot of good that has come from this. And so, I hope I can answer as many questions as possible today. I’ve never shied away from all of you, you know that. Especially with the Japanese media, I’ve always shown you respect. So I just ask for that a little bit back right now.
This isn’t an easy time. It wasn’t easy information to hear. But there’s a lot that’s come from the last 10 days. Educating ourselves on what this means. Getting different opinions, all of it. So personally, what I’ve been gathering from doctors and specialists, there is some positivity that’s going to come out of this. And we feel good about it. I wanted just to start off by saying that. And now, I want to start off by saying that it’s very important, very important, that I ask you to report this. Shohei’s in a good place. His spirits are high. He’s playing, everything’s good. I don’t want anybody to think that he’s not.
And especially back in Japan, I want you guys to report that. He’s in good spirits. It’s coming from me. He’s in a good place. The other thing that I feel is important is that people understand that the situation that we’re in, he’s going to be fine. We all feel extremely positive based on information that we’re getting, that he’s going to be fine. So make sure you share that. Make sure you get that out.
And then the last thing is, is the outpouring of love and well wishes, all of that has just been overwhelming. We do appreciate it. Shohei really deeply appreciates it. Get that out there. OK? That’s why I’m here. Because I wanted those messages to get out. Clearly, I’m here to answer what I can. But there are probably some things that I can’t go down a path, because we’re still gathering more information. Bear with me, and we’ll get through this. Fire away.
Where is he in the process of getting second opinions and finding out if he needs surgery or not?
Yeah, I can answer that. Again, I’m going to hopefully fill in a lot of blanks here. I think it’s inevitable that there is going to be some type of procedure. OK? What that procedure looks like and when, and the type of procedure is what we’re gathering right now. Clearly there’s been multiple opinions. And we’re not just banking on one or two. We’re really trying to educate ourselves on this situation.
I’m just going to get it out and tell you. Perry went on record and said that we had a tear. And we do. But it’s completely different than last time. Last time was way up top, the farthest area that you can get on top. And this one is about as low as you can get. So it’s completely different. When you take the lowest extremity that you can on a ligament that’s close to the bone, that’s where this problem lies.
And so the ligament itself, because there’s been some false reporting out there. The ligament itself that Shohei had, the graft that he was put in with the native ligament back in 2018, is all together, all intact. No problem, everything looks good. That’s a real positive to take away from this. Again, I’m trying to create as much of a positive narrative as I can. Because I want you to understand, when a doctor looked at this, multiple doctors, looked at this and said this is the best scenario for the situation that we’re in. You take that and run with it.
With that said, we feel very optimistic, very confident that moving forward, things are going to be fine. Again, the message that I want you to share out there into the community, the industry and the world, is that we’re going to be fine. Shohei’s going to be fine. Is he going to pitch the rest of the year? No. We already know that. Is he going to get into next year? We don’t know that. So just bear with me on that.
But I do know this: No matter what timetable we’re doing this and when we get this done, Shohei is going to be in somebody’s lineup next year DHing when the bell rings. We know that. We’re not going to push that. He’s going to be good to go. That’s where it’s at.
Is exploring treatment going to happen after the season?
It’s ongoing right now. I think it’s been 10 days. We’re gathering as much information as possible. Everybody’s been incredibly supportive, as you can imagine. I don’t think there’s anybody here that doesn’t love this kid. We all want the best for him. All of you know that he means a ton to me. We’re just gathering up as much information as we can to do this right. And he understands that as well. When you gather information and when you have to make the right decisions, it takes a little bit of time. You don’t want to knee-jerk into these things. You want to take the time, gather as much as you can, make the right decision.
Because Shohei loves to pitch and all of you know that. There’s probably some situations out there that we didn’t even explore, that could probably get him back in the lineup maybe quicker because of some type of surgery. In this type of situation, we don’t want to create any type of situation where it’s going to be detrimental to him. And we just want to make sure that longevity is important because he loves to pitch.
I’m just telling you right now that Shohei — there’s not a question in his mind that he’s going to come back and he’s going to continue to do both like we have the last few years, that all of you have really enjoyed.
Angels GM Perry Minasian said that you guys declined an opportunity to get imaging earlier in August. Is that your perspective, and if so, why did you decline?
I can address that. It was the Seattle outing (Aug. 3), and he came out with a cramp in his finger. And it was just a suggestion. Right after he came out, it was a suggestion like, maybe we need to get imaging. It was like, ‘Hold the fort, let’s find out what the deal is.’ I consulted with Shohei after. We talked through it. If you notice, in the sixth or seventh inning, the cramp went away. He hit a home run to tie the game. Then he stole a base. He was fine. It wasn’t any issues with the elbow, no issues with the shoulder. No problems. He was good to go.
And if you recall, he was normal for his next start and threw 97 pitches. He beat the Giants. So he was fine, everything was good, so there were no issues with that. It was just a quick suggestion, thought about it, talked with him, everything was good. It didn’t warrant it at all.
Did he feel anything before his start against the Reds?
Shohei was completely fine. He had no issues. Didn’t complain about anything. Everything was fine. That outing with Seattle, it was just a cramp in the finger. It didn’t warrant anything.
With Shohei planning to DH next year, can he still hit the rest of the season?
We’re still weighing that out. But right now, he’s in the lineup tonight. The thing that you have to understand too, and I’ll share it with you. With all the consulting that we’ve been doing with doctors, Shohei, there’s not one thing that he can’t do when it comes to DHing. He can lift. He can run. He can slide. He can hit. He can take violent swings. He can do anything he wants right now. It doesn’t affect the problem in question. So we’re good. Whatever we decide to get done, we have to take it into consideration next year. The way that the timetable is going to play out, he’s going to be fine when the bell rings in 2024.
In 2018, he had surgery on Oct. 1, and was not able to hit the following season until May. Why is it different?
It’s a different scenario this time. I’m not going to get into that. But the doctors are basically telling me it’s a completely different scenario, based on certain things that we can do. At this time, I’m not getting into that. But it is a different situation. So he’ll be fine.
What’s your understanding of why this happened so soon after his last Tommy John surgery?
I just mentioned it. His graft and the native ligament, combined with the graft, back in 2018, is fine. There’s no tear in that. It’s done where the bone meets the UCL, so this is different from what it was last time. The ligament itself, it’s fine and is in good shape.
You’re saying he could have surgery that is not Tommy John surgery?
We’re weighing it all out.
Is Shohei going to speak to the media?
That’s why I’m here. I was hoping to answer a lot of your questions. As you know, he’s very particular about things. And he continues to just play out as long as he possibly can. And until we make decisions. But there’s really no need for him to address the media. I’m addressing this for him, on behalf of all of us. So fire away on any of your questions. We’re just going to let him continue to play, and do what he loves to do, and respect that. I’m asking all of you to do the same with him. When you come out of a game, you’re not thinking about what we’re told as far as the diagnosis. He’s a little taken aback. And so because of that, let’s just let him breathe, let him play, and let him enjoy what he loves to do.
Do you think you’re still going to be pursuing a long-term contract this offseason? Or would you consider something short-term?
That I’m not going to get into. I appreciate the question, but I’m not going to get into it right now. That’s the furthest thing from my mind. Let’s just deal with the immediate right now.
Are the Angels heavily involved in this process, given that he’s an impending free agent?
It’s interesting, because he’s an employee of the Angels. He’s playing for the Angels. So of course, when there’s decisions being made about this season, I’m consulting with the Angels front office. When it comes to further decisions and things like that, out of respect to them, they’ll be in the know. But they don’t necessarily have the pulse on all of that to make the decisions for us.
Have the Angels been involved in the part of the process that involves next season?
You know my policy. I never comment on extensions. I never comment on arbitration stuff. And I never comment on free agent discussions or any of that. I do appreciate the question.
Did it surprise you that he wanted to keep playing?
This guy loves the game. And when he found out that there’s nothing that he could do to create any more damage than what’s already been done he was like, “I want to play this thing out until we gather more information.” That’s where we’re at, as of today.
So he wasn’t surprised by the news?
When you get information that you have an issue with your elbow, of course. He takes it so well, though, what’s interesting about him. And he takes it like such a pro, and such a gentleman. Yes, he’s upset. But then it didn’t take him a long time after to say, “OK, we’ve got a game to play.” He played the second game after getting the information. That tells you the type of character this guy has.
Would he finish the season early to get a procedure?
It’s a fair question, and that’s what we’re evaluating right now. We don’t have that answer. Today’s Sept. 4, we know he’s playing. And we continue to gather more information that we feel is applicable to what our future is. Big picture, being in the lineup in 2024, all of that. If there’s anything that affects that, we’ll probably make a decision. But right now, that’s not a decision we’re making today. So we’re continuing to play.
Did you have any issue with the Angels announcing Ohtani declining the MRI?
No. Look, the Angels were getting pounded pretty good. People were like, they kept hearing the word “fatigue.” He’s breaking down. And there were a couple other people that are out there that people listen to, and were just pounding, “This guy has been tired for weeks.” Look, the word “fatigue” was abused in my opinion.
He got zapped in Detroit on that 18-inning day. He threw a (complete game), then he went out and played. He was dehydrated after, and then he did get zapped. But as far as the fatigue thing, this guy is taking singles into doubles and doubles into triples nightly. The fatigue thing I think was really blown out of proportion. He feels good. He continues to feel good. He takes care of himself.
Nobody can do what this guy’s doing. He was on pace for over 180 innings. And, what, 650 plate appearances. Who can do that? People were just assuming that he was breaking down and that there should have been signs for people to notice. That’s not the case at all. Shohei, he drives his career. He does what he needs to do. And he knows he’s got the cards to say, “I need a day. I need to take a beat.” He doesn’t do it enough because he doesn’t feel like he needs to. So we respect that. For him to continue to go out and do what he was feeling great, then we listen to him and support him.
Ohtani’s relationship with the Angels hasn’t been impacted?
Not at all. They’ve been great. No issues with the Angels.
Do you think going forward Ohtani will have a say on how often he plays and if/when he needs days off?
I can’t answer that. Every organization’s different.
Everyone says this is going to impact his free agency. Do you feel differently?
I really don’t have a comment on that. People out there giving opinions, it’s the way society is nowadays. People give opinions all day. I don’t put a lot of weight into that. We’ll tackle free agency when it comes. I’m not worried about free agency.
Do you think he could pitch next year?
I don’t have that answer, I don’t. It’s all going to be based on the type of procedure and the type of situation that we’re going to fall into, coming up soon.
Are there a couple options or a lot of treatment options?
I can’t get into that too heavy. But there are plenty of options. And we’re weighing them out. We are carefully doing that. We have to think big picture. We have to think that he’s not just going to hit. He’s going to get back on the hill. He’s going to do his thing. We have to think about that. And make sure that the procedure that is done, is done correctly. And that is heavily taken into consideration when we think big picture moving forward. This guy would love to do both for a long, long time. Not a short time.
Does Shohei care about hitting Angels home run records this year?
He’s competitive like that. So I’m sure it’s crossed his mind. It’s not like we’re talking about it nightly. But knowing him and being as competitive as he is, I’m sure it’s crossed his mind. He takes pride in that, he takes pride in his game. It’s not like he’s chasing records all day. I think he’s already setting quite a few. He seems to do it nightly.
You said he’s getting some type of procedure. That would rule out a PRP injection or stem cell treatment?
Again, I’m not going to get into the type of procedures, but I think it’s inevitable that he’s going to get some type of procedure here. We just don’t know exactly what that is. And I’m not going to answer exactly what type of procedure.
(Photo of Shohei Ohtani: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)