LOS ANGELES — Shohei Ohtani's elbow injury has healed enough that the Los Angeles Angels' two-way star can begin a hitting program immediately.
General manager Billy Eppler said Thursday that Ohtani underwent an MRI in Los Angeles that showed improvement to his ulnar collateral ligament, clearing him to take batting practice in private.
"That's news I was hoping to hear," Eppler said on a conference call.
Ohtani was placed on the disabled list with a UCL sprain June 8. He will be re-evaluated by doctors in three weeks.
Asked whether Ohtani needs Tommy John surgery that could cause him to miss the rest of this season as well as all of the 2019 season, Eppler said, "No doctor has told me that Shohei needs surgical intervention at this time."
Ohtani has a Grade 2 sprain, or partial tear, of the UCL in his right elbow. In hopes of avoiding Tommy John surgery, the Angels had Ohtani's ligament injected with platelet-rich plasma and stem cells earlier this month. Eppler said he has not had additional injections.
Eppler said Ohtani will not play in rehab games but will take batting practice in a "private and controlled environment" and could face live pitching as soon as this weekend. Because Ohtani is not a position player, rehab games were deemed unnecessary.
"We can control a little bit more the progression," Eppler said. "This allows for more freedom, structure and control."
Ohtani has not been cleared to pitch yet.
His last appearance came June 6 in a start against Kansas City. Ohtani left after four innings with a blister and also mentioned he was feeling tightness in his elbow. An MRI taken the next day revealed the UCL in his right elbow had progressed from a Grade 1 strain to a more serious Grade 2 level.
Ohtani won four of his first five decisions before getting injured. He was batting .289 with six home runs and 20 RBIs.
"I know that not being able to play baseball competitively and only being able to train doesn't really satisfy his appetite and his hunger to play," Eppler said. "He's now one step closer. I can only assume he's excited about it."