TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese two-way standout Shohei Ohtani is positive he can make a full recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery following his remarkable rookie season in Major League Baseball.
Ohtani impressed during his first season with the Los Angeles Angels to such an extent that he was awarded the American League Rookie of the Year award despite having to miss the end of the season with an elbow injury.
Speaking in Tokyo on Thursday, Ohtani faced a bombardment of questions from an eager Japanese media press pack, most of whom were mainly concerned over the state of the 24-year-old’s elbow.
“I was opposed to (surgery) at the beginning and had thought it better not to go under the knife,” admitted Ohtani.
“But looking at it in the long term, I thought it was more important to stand up upon the mound fully capable of giving it my best performance and fully at ease.
“I hope that on my path to recovery I will be able to put together a rehabilitation program that will make me also glad I did it.”
Ohtani underwent surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament injury in October and said he was still avoiding putting too much stress on his right arm.
He will not return to the mound until 2020 but is aiming to hit next season and has targeted an improvement on his 22 home runs from this campaign.
Ohtani said that injuries were part and parcel of being a pitcher in the major leagues, especially when you frequently get the ball shifting at over the 100 miles per hour (160 kph) mark.
“So the first step for me is, among others, to find a way to throw balls more efficiently,” he said.
Ohtani also revealed he had reached out to Japanese outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who has been competing in the major leagues since 2001, for advice ahead of the 2018 season.
“During the Arizona camp, my play wasn’t really going very well, even mentally,” explained Ohtani.
“So I wanted to reach out and talk to someone who had the most experience.
“It was from there that mentally and technically things improved and I was able to face the new season, so I am very grateful to him as it was a time where I really learned a lot.”
Ohtani has been compared to Babe Ruth, widely regarded as the best baseball player of all time, due to his ability to both pitch and hit at an elite level.
Last year, he had a .285 batting average with 22 home runs and 61 RBI. On the mound, he went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA.
He also became the first player since Ruth in 1919 to pitch 50 innings and hit 15 homers in a single season.
“Looking back when it had all ended, the season had been a really good one,” said Ohtani in something of an understatement.
“Even when you include the homework I still have to do, it was a very fulfilling season.”
Reporting by Jack Tarrant