By James Geerdes
Baseball’s best two-way player, Shohei Ohtani, has been kept at bay the last month with a Grade 2 UCL sprain. In addition, a slow return onto the field left a haze of questions surrounding Ohtani. But he’s still the best two-way player in the game.
The sprain kept Los Angeles Angels’ Ohtani on the disabled list from June 4 to July 3, and without him, the Angels’ offense was stagnant. And then, to the surprise of many, it remained stagnant.
The rookie’s immediate return was lackluster. An 0-for-4 outing in the DH spot helped land the Angels a 4-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners on July 3.
The next day Ohtani went 2-for-4, scoring 2 runs. The Angels won, 7-4, over the Mariners, and it seemed as if he was back.
And on July 6, Ohtani delivered again. With the Angels down, 2-1, against the Dodgers, Ohtani was called to pinch hit in the ninth inning. With only one out left in the game and down 2 strikes to one of the game’s best closers, Kenley Jansen, Ohtani worked a walk. He then stole second, took third on an errant throw, and scored on an RBI single by David Fletcher, tying the game, 2-2. From the dugout, he watched another single turn into an improbable walkoff for the Angels.
Ohtani went 0-for-4 on July 7, going just 2-for-14 from July 3-7. But another roadblock struck Ohtani, this time in his knee. The designated hitter fouled a ball into his right knee in the ninth inning against Jansen. After hobbling around, he returned to the box and struck out swinging.
The next day he was held out of the lineup with a bruised knee, but he entered in the seventh to pinch hit. He delivered when his team was tied, 3-3, with 2 outs. Ohtani connected on an inside fastball and sent it over the center field wall for a go-ahead solo home run — his first since May 17.
Following Sunday’s game, Ohtani told reporters that his knee was between “75 and 80 percent” healthy. The knee — mixed with the more serious elbow injury — has riddled the two-way phenom, but he is seemingly returning.
Ohtani, battling through injury, has helped lead a struggling Angels offense right before the All-Star break. An even scarier thought is what he will accomplish as a healthy, two-way starter.
In full health, he started his MLB début season hot, earning Rookie of the Month of April. Fully rested and pitching in his first game in the league, Ohtani registered 12 punchouts in a 6-1 victory against the Oakland Athletics on April 8.
In the box, Ohtani hit .341/.383/.682 — a healthy line for a rookie in the month of April. As one of the highest anticipated overseas player, Ohtani dominated in his first month.
Now, on the verge of health, Ohtani is nearing his potential for the second half of the season.