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Ohtani won't pitch for Angels until May

Two-way star will begin 2020 as DH in MLB while making rehab starts in Minors
@RhettBollinger
February 11, 2020

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Two-way star Shohei Ohtani will not pitch for the Angels until mid-May, but he will be ready to start the season as a designated hitter, general manager Billy Eppler said Tuesday on the day Angels pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training. Ohtani’s rehab from Tommy John

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Two-way star Shohei Ohtani will not pitch for the Angels until mid-May, but he will be ready to start the season as a designated hitter, general manager Billy Eppler said Tuesday on the day Angels pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training.

Ohtani’s rehab from Tommy John surgery was delayed by the decision to undergo left knee surgery in September, as he didn’t finish his elbow rehab until late December. After meeting with doctors and team trainers, it was determined that Ohtani won’t be ready to pitch at the start of the season. But one advantage is that he’s allowed to make rehab starts in the Minor Leagues without being placed on the 10-day injured list, so he could theoretically pitch in a Minor League game one day and be in the Angels’ lineup 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. We will be able to -- because of a new rule -- pitch him in a rehab game without placing him on the IL so he can stay active as a hitter.”

The Angels also received another benefit, as Ohtani will count as a two-way player on the Angels’ roster and won’t count as one of the club’s pitchers. Rosters expanded to 26 players this year, but clubs will reportedly only be able to carry 13 pitchers. But because Ohtani will be designated a two-way player, it essentially allows the Angels to carry an extra pitcher.

How rule changes can increase Ohtani's value

Manager Joe Maddon said he loves the flexibility that Ohtani will bring to the Angels but said he agrees that it’s best to be careful in the short-term with Ohtani coming off two surgeries.

"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."

Once Ohtani is cleared to pitch with the Angels, he’s expected to start once a week and serve as designated hitter three to five times a week. The Angels are still determining how often he’ll DH once he returns to the mound, but early in the year, he’ll be available to DH more often, as he’ll mostly just be out of the lineup on days when he makes a rehab start. There’s talk they could decide not to hit Ohtani on the day before or after he pitches, but Maddon said he still likes the idea of him being in the lineup on days he pitches.

“I’m open to it,” Maddon said. “It’s just not something we’re ready to do yet. But there’s no reason why not. But he has to prove he’s well and we have to know from talking to him and watching him that he’s ready for the components of that.”

With Ohtani out of the mix in the rotation, the Angels could open with either a four- or five-man rotation because they have so many off-days early in the year. Veterans Andrew Heaney, Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy are considered locks, while Griffin Canning is also likely to be in the rotation. The fifth spot could be up for grabs between Matt Andriese, Patrick Sandoval, Jaime Barria, Jose Suarez, Dillon Peters and Félix Peña.

“I feel good about our numbers coming in,” Eppler said. “A little bit of a theme recently is we want to make sure guys can take their turns. We’ve had players who have been able to contribute at a pretty high level. If we can get guys on the mound and keep them on the mound, then we are going to be in pretty good shape.”

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