ANAHEIM -- Two-way star Shohei Ohtani has proved to be a rare talent in his two seasons in the Majors and new manager Joe Maddon is determined to get the most out of him, even as Ohtani returns from Tommy John surgery and an operation on his left knee in September.
Maddon said at the Winter Meetings that he’d be willing to have Ohtani hit on the days when he pitches, which would forfeit the designated hitter. But it would allow Ohtani’s bat to be in the lineup an extra day. As a rookie, Ohtani pitched on Sundays, but he didn’t serve as DH on the day before, the day of and the day after his starts. But that could change next season when Ohtani makes his return to the mound after surgery kept him from pitching in 2019.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler said he hasn’t quite signed off on the idea because they’re waiting for more information from the doctors and training staff, but Maddon made it clear he wants Ohtani to be in the lineup as much as possible in 2020.
"Don't treat your guys like China dolls," Maddon said. "They're not. He's gone through some tough moments. He's gone through his rehab, and now it's time to be a baseball player. Sometimes we do go overboard, I think, with the protection of athletes and players and pitchers. This guy is special."
Maddon believes it makes sense to have Ohtani hit on days when he pitches and it wouldn't be completely new to him because he did it occasionally while playing with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan. Ohtani, 25, has slashed .286/.351/.532 with 40 homers and 123 RBIs in 210 career games as a DH, and he's posted a 3.31 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings (10 starts) as a pitcher in 2018.
“Why wouldn't you?” Maddon said. “That's another 50 at-bats a year that you're going to get out of the guy that you wouldn't get otherwise. Wouldn't the fans dig on that?”
The Angels are still trying to formulate a plan for Ohtani because his Tommy John rehab was pushed back a few months after he underwent his knee surgery. Ohtani will be ready to hit at the start of the season, but the Angels are trying to determine if he’ll be ready to pitch come Opening Day. Ohtani, though, is still expected to pitch once a week when healthy and the Angels are going to try to get his bat in the lineup three to five times a week.
Eppler said he’s talked with Maddon about his ideas for Ohtani, but that it’s something they’ll discuss further once they get closer to Spring Training.
“He’s mentioned it,” Eppler said. “I’ve told him, ‘All right, let’s get the roster built first.’ Spring Training is a good time to talk about those things. Let’s not get into it too early. But he’s excited and I like his excitement. I’m excited to hear all his ideas.”