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Angels' hope: Ohtani returns as DH in May

Ausmus provides injury updates on Japanese phenom, Pujols, Cozart
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

TEMPE -- New Angels manager Brad Ausmus held his first media session of the spring on the day pitchers and catchers officially reported on Tuesday, giving updates on rehabbing players such as Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols and Zack Cozart.

Ohtani, who is set to meet with the media after his workout on Wednesday, has progressed to taking dry swings, and the hope is he'll be ready to return to the lineup as designated hitter in May. Ohtani has yet to start throwing since undergoing Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1, but he's making good progress at the plate.

TEMPE -- New Angels manager Brad Ausmus held his first media session of the spring on the day pitchers and catchers officially reported on Tuesday, giving updates on rehabbing players such as Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols and Zack Cozart.

Ohtani, who is set to meet with the media after his workout on Wednesday, has progressed to taking dry swings, and the hope is he'll be ready to return to the lineup as designated hitter in May. Ohtani has yet to start throwing since undergoing Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1, but he's making good progress at the plate.

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"It's a very tedious process," Ausmus said. "His personality, he's going to want to get on the field quickly, because he wants to compete, but we have to be smart about Shohei's long-term career and success."

It's the first time the Angels have put a date on when Ohtani could possibly return, as his rehab schedule is complicated because he's working toward returning as a pitcher in 2020 while also getting ready to be able to hit this season.

"We're thinking some time in May, but that's assuming everything goes well," Ausmus said. "This is new territory in a sense that we're dealing with a guy who DHs on a regular basis and is a starting pitcher. It's new territory rehabbing Tommy John surgery, and we want to protect him long-term being able to do both. If we have to push it back, we will push it back."

Pujols, meanwhile, is already in camp working out and has been hitting and participating in strength exercises with no issues after undergoing arthroscopic left knee surgery in August. He figures to get most of the starts at DH early in the season with Ohtani out, while Justin Bour plays first base.

"Albert's doing everything right now," Ausmus said. "I think we're going to have discussions with him on how he's feeling regularly. I think the important thing is to keep him healthy all year. That will be the approach."

Video: Bollinger on Pujols being ready to contribute for '19

Cozart, who underwent surgery to repair a torn left labrum in his shoulder in late June, is in a similar situation, as he's been participating in baseball activities in Tempe, but the club will be cautious with him early in spring. He's also expected to get most of his reps at third base this spring, which could open the door for David Fletcher or possibly even prospect Luis Rengifo to win the starting second-base job.

"He's felt good for a while," Ausmus said of Cozart. "We've corresponded a couple times, whether it's texts or over the phone over the offseason. He feels strong. I don't want to say he's full-go because we'll take it slowly just in case, but he feels pretty good with where he's at with his shoulder."

Here are some other notes and tidbits from Ausmus' first press conference of the spring:

• Right-hander Jaime Barria, who is the favorite for the final spot in the Angels' starting rotation, came into camp looking leaner than last season, and it caught the eye of Ausmus, who also said that Rengifo looks noticeably stronger than last year.

• Ausmus plans to hold a team meeting once the rest of the squad reports to be able to lay down some of his ground rules and what he expects this spring. He's already familiar with most of the roster after serving as a special assistant to general manager Billy Eppler last year.

"A lot of these guys know me, but they don't know me as the manager," Ausmus said. "Out of the gate, I'm kind of establishing what I expect, how the work pace should be. I think that's going to be laying down the foundation. The vast majority of teams do similar work in Spring Training. We have to do all that work, but it's more of how the work is done."

Tweet from @Angels: The sweet, sweet sound of baseball. We���ve missed you dearly. #LAASpring pic.twitter.com/1iFcW68uCX

• Others who have been working out at the Spring Training facility ahead of the official report date include new additions Cody Allen and Bour. Ausmus said he's familiar with Allen after watching him on the Indians while managing the Tigers in the American League Central and has gotten to know Bour over the last few weeks.

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

Los Angeles Angels, Zack Cozart, Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols