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Ohtani OK with delaying pitching debut

@RhettBollinger
February 12, 2020

TEMPE, Ariz. -- A day after the Angels announced that two-way star Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch in the Majors until mid-May, Ohtani said Wednesday he’s feeling healthy after multiple surgeries and is on board with the plan. Ohtani, who saw his rehab from Tommy John surgery delayed by left knee

TEMPE, Ariz. -- A day after the Angels announced that two-way star Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch in the Majors until mid-May, Ohtani said Wednesday he’s feeling healthy after multiple surgeries and is on board with the plan.

Ohtani, who saw his rehab from Tommy John surgery delayed by left knee surgery in September, finished his throwing program in late December. He’s throwing again without any issues at Spring Training and will start the season as the club’s regular designated hitter, but the Angels will be cautious with him and delay his return to the mound.

“I was getting prepared to start on Opening Day but if that’s what the team wants me to do, then I’ll be prepared to delay my debut,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I don’t see any problems.”

Ohtani, though, can still make rehab starts on the mound in the Minor Leagues without having to be placed on the injured list, which helps his availability as DH. Major League Baseball also officially announced new rules Wednesday, which indicated that Ohtani will have two-way status in 2020 and will not count among the club’s maximum of 13 pitchers on their 26-man roster.

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Considering Ohtani threw 51 2/3 innings during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018 and didn't pitch in the Majors at all last year, his innings total will be limited and the Angels would rather have him available to pitch late in the season rather than early in the year. Ohtani is still expected to pitch once a week once he’s cleared to pitch in the big leagues.

"I think first of all, patience is the key word," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "The part about it to me that's intriguing as we move this forward as he gets well, and as we get later in the year when you get to the August-September playoff situation, that at that point to be able to have him pitch and hit at the same time."

Ohtani never served as DH in games he pitched with the Angels in 2018 but said it’s something he did regularly while playing in his native Japan. The Angels would lose the DH in that scenario, as they’d have to replace Ohtani in the order once he left the game as a pitcher.

“If that’s what Joe wants me to do, I don’t think I have a choice,” Ohtani said. “It’s not that it’s something I don’t want to do. It’s whatever he tells me to do, I’m willing to do. I think it shows trust in me that he’s willing to put me in the lineup.”

Angels tidbits

• Right-hander Félix Peña said he’s doing well after undergoing surgery to repair his ACL in his right knee in August but that he’s still a little behind the other pitchers in camp. He’s yet to start pitchers fielding practice but has thrown a few bullpen sessions. There still remains a chance he’s not ready for Opening Day.

“I don’t have a date yet,” Peña said through an interpreter. “I’m not too certain but I’m working hard for it. Trying to stay positive. Doing the same routine day in and day out is kind of hard. Some days it feels better, some days a little worse. But just staying strong.”

• Catcher Max Stassi, who underwent right hip surgery on the first day of the offseason, said he’s ahead of schedule and shouldn’t have any issues this spring. He’s considered the favorite to be the backup catcher and is competing with Anthony Bemboom.

“I anticipate myself being ready for Opening Day,” Stassi said. “I feel better than I ever have, honestly, with the rehab that I’ve done and the surgery that I’ve had.”

• Catcher Jason Castro and left-hander Patrick Sandoval both missed the first official workout between Angels pitchers and catchers on Wednesday due to flu-like symptoms.

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.