ANAHEIM -- As Shohei Ohtani adjusts to the rhythms of Major League Baseball, Angels manager Mike Scioscia will tread lightly with his two-way player.This is part of a new initiative the Angels' coaching and medical staffs have undertaken to avoid the pitfalls the team has experienced in the past. Four
ANAHEIM -- As Shohei Ohtani adjusts to the rhythms of Major League Baseball, Angels manager Mike Scioscia will tread lightly with his two-way player.
This is part of a new initiative the Angels' coaching and medical staffs have undertaken to avoid the pitfalls the team has experienced in the past. Four members of the Angels' Opening Day rotation -- Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney and Matthew Shoemaker -- have struggled with injuries the past two seasons. Richards, the ace, missed almost all of 2016 and '17. Heaney and Skaggs missed the majority of those seasons, as well. Seven games into 2018, Heaney and Shoemaker are already on the disabled list.
When Heaney and Shoemaker return, Scioscia's Spring Training plan of a six-man rotation should come to fruition, affording starters the luxury of elongated rest times and more opportunity for strength training. It will also enable Ohtani to stick with the six days of rest that he grew accustomed to in Japan.
Ohtani appears poised to continue with those six days of rest, even as the Angels soldier on with a five-man rotation. That means that he will pitch every seven days for the foreseeable future, and be in the lineup as DH two to three games between starts. One of those DH starts will be tonight against the A's, where he is slotted into the No. 8 hole in the Angels lineup.
Ohtani's regimen requires him to train both at the plate and on the mound, no matter what he's doing in the next game. That's normal for him and he believes it helps him prepare.
"So even when I play as a hitter, I still pitch, and that's part of my rhythm, that's something I've been doing the past five years in Japan," Ohtani said Tuesday, through an interpreter. "I think each at-bat -- one at-bat at a time, one game at a time -- and try to create a good rhythm."
Scioscia said that general manager Billy Eppler has a concrete plan about what the structure of Ohtani's hitting and pitching timetable will look like as the season goes on (it was made before Ohtani was even an Angel, during the recruiting process), but did not go into further detail. Scioscia said that anything could change, and that they're taking everything day by day.
"We're going to be very diligent in checking in with our medical department to see what [Ohtani's] availability will be on a day-to-day basis, and to make sure that he has the best chance to contribute with the bat and on the mound," Scioscia said.
Scioscia has, however, also stressed that Ohtani is well-equipped for the task, and that his maturity level is far beyond his years. The skipper trusts in the routine that Ohtani has created for himself.
"I think he knows what he's doing out there, he knows what he needs to prepare for a season," Scioscia said.
Ohtani has a first-degree sprain in the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, something that Scioscia said he's not worried about, but will keep an eye on. Ohtani received platelet-rich plasma injections over the offseason as a preventative measure. The treatment is something pitchers, including Chris Sale and Ohtani's countryman, Masahiro Tanaka, have done while continuing to pitch at a high level.
A first-degree sprain indicates that the tissue has been stretched out, but is not torn. It's the most minor grade level of injury to the UCL, and Ohtani has said in the past that he has no discomfort in his elbow.
According to a study published by the Rockies that collected data on 72 players with elbow injuries, 93 percent of those who had a Grade One or lesser Grade Two sprains and did not opt for surgery returned to their previous rate of production the season after injury.
An asset of Ohtani's magnitude, especially one in the middle of a massive adjustment period, must be handled carefully, and all indications point toward Scioscia erring on the conservative side.
Ohtani will pitch again Sunday against the Athletics, the team he faced in his season debut.
Avery Yang is a reporter for MLB.com.