ANAHEIM -- Shohei Ohtani met with the media for the first time in nearly two weeks before the Angels' home opener against the Rangers on Thursday and said he believes he could be ready to return before the end of April but that it’ll be up to the training staff on when he’ll be ready.
Ohtani, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, underwent Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1 and has been rehabbing with the intention of returning in May as a designated hitter, but won’t pitch again until 2020. Ohtani, though, has been hitting on the field at Angel Stadium since March 27 and believes he could be ready before the end of the month.
“Personally, I feel I could be back this month, but it’s up to the team,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “As a player, I think it’s natural to want to get back as early as possible. That’s how I’m feeling right now, but it’s ultimately up to the team. I know they are trying to be really careful.”
Ohtani, 24, said his next step will be taking live batting practice, but he hasn’t been given a date on when that will begin. Last year, he needed only about a week of live batting practice in June before returning to hitting following his initial elbow diagnosis. He’ll likely need more time than that, however, and there remains a chance he could go on a Minor League rehab assignment before returning to the Majors.
“I’ve been hitting outside for a while now,” Ohtani said. “I haven’t been told exactly [when] I’m going to be facing live pitching. I think I have a doctor’s [appointment] somewhere in the middle. So I think that will be a big factor.”
Ohtani also said he’s been watching the Angels on television so far early in the season, which makes him want to join his teammates even more. He took a total of 50 swings on Thursday, including 25 in batting practice on the field. He’s also been throwing from out to 60 feet, but hitting remains the priority right now.
"I've been training hard all offseason trying to get back,” Ohtani said. “Right now, my swing feels great. My power feels actually even a little bit better than last year. So I think, in that sense, everything is going really well."
Cole begins rehab assignment
Reliever Taylor Cole, who is on the injured list with a right shoulder strain, begin a rehab assignment with Class A Advanced Inland Empire on Thursday. Cole missed most of Spring Training, as he felt shoulder discomfort after an outing on March 7.
Cole, 29, posted a 2.75 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 36 innings as a rookie last year. He has Minor League options remaining, which means he could be sent to Triple-A Salt Lake once he’s healthy, but he remains an intriguing depth piece for the Angels bullpen.
Right-hander Nick Tropeano, who is on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation, threw a 40-pitch bullpen at Angel Stadium on Thursday and will head back to Arizona to start throwing live bullpen sessions.
Tropeano didn’t pitch in Spring Training after experiencing a setback with his shoulder in the offseason, but he has been throwing off a mound since March 19. He’s been able to throw all of his pitches and said he’ll progress to live bullpen sessions of two to three innings and four to five innings before he begins a rehab assignment.