Japanese pitching and batting threat Shohei Ohtani will not take the mound for the Los Angeles Angels until mid-May but will open the Major League Baseball season as a designated hitter.
That’s what Angels general manager Billy Eppler said Tuesday as the American League club’s pitchers and catchers reported to pre-season training camp in Arizona.
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Ohtani’s rehabilitation from “Tommy John” tendon replacement surgery was delayed by a decision to undergo left knee surgery last September, pushing back the finish of his right elbow treatments until late December.
Angels team doctors and trainers met with Eppler and Ohtani and decided Ohtani can’t open the season pitching, but under a new MLB rule he could be cleared to make pitching starts in developmental league games one day and then bat for the Angels the next day.
“We are targeting a mid-May return on the mound for Shohei,” Eppler said. “He would be able to begin the year as a DH, pending no other unforeseen things happen between now and then. We are expecting him to start the year as a DH for us.”
Ohtani will count as a two-way player on the Angels’ roster as opposed to being counted as one of the club’s pitchers. MLB rosters will expand to 26 players this season but no more than half of the roster can be pitchers.
Ohtani’s two-way status gives the Angels, in effect, an extra pitching option once he gets healthy, a flexibility that new Angels manager Joe Madden loves even as he cautions against too much work in the short term.
“The guy is such as generational talent you have to be mindful and patient as you get him back on track,” Maddon said. “The big thing there is when you’re the steward of somebody that’s going to be that good for a long period of time, you have to be careful.
“I think patience is a key word with all of this. I’ve been in development my whole life, so when you’re trying to develop a major league talent like him here coming off the injury situations he’s had, it’s very important to be patient, and I am.”
Ohtani, 25, played for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the Japan League from 2013 through 2017 then joined the Angels in 2018, when he won the American League Rookie of the Year award.
When Ohtani is cleared to pitch again for the Angels, he’s expected to make one start a week and play as designated hitter three to five times a week.
There is consideration of not having Ohtani bat on days before or after he pitches.