Ohtani may add OF to tool set in '21

September 5th, 2020

Angels two-way player has been taking grounders at first base and tracking down fly balls in the outfield this season to increase his versatility, but he said Friday he’s not sure when he’ll see action as a position player.

Ohtani, who isn’t currently throwing because of a right elbow/forearm strain sustained on Aug. 2, said he still plans to return to two-way status next season. He’s only served as a pitcher and designated hitter in his Major League career, but manager Joe Maddon has said that Ohtani is too athletic not to play in the field as well. Ohtani won’t serve as a position player this year because of his injury, but it could happen at some point in 2021.

"They never actually told me when exactly, but they told me they wanted me to get some reps under my belt and be prepared," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "I haven't played first base in a while, so I don't know how it's going to be. I'm enjoying it during practice, but once the game starts, I'll stop enjoying it and take it more seriously.”

Ohtani played some outfield early in his career in Japan, playing 57 games in right field and seven in left field. But he hasn’t played in the field since 2014 and joked that he stopped because he wasn’t very good defensively. Ohtani, though, said he believes he could handle the outfield because of his prior experience. He’s also one of the fastest players in the Majors, as he currently ranks tied for 23rd in average sprint speed, according to Statcast.

“I feel I could play the outfield right now,” Ohtani said. “Practice is different than playing in games, but I would give it my best.”

Ohtani, 26, has also struggled at the plate this year, entering Friday with a slash line of .189/.291/.378 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 30 games. He entered the season as a career .286/.351/.532 hitter in 210 games. But Ohtani said the elbow/forearm injury isn’t the reason for his issues at the plate.

“I haven't been throwing and I haven't really felt anything at this point, and hitting-wise it hasn't affected me in any way,” Ohtani said. “Whether going back on pickoff moves or stealing bags, it doesn't affect me at all."

Buttrey, Peña to share closing duties
Right-hander picked up the save in Thursday’s 2-0 win over the Padres, his first since his rookie season in 2016 with the Cubs. Fellow right-hander had been serving as the club’s de facto closer after Hansel Robles lost the role on Aug. 5. But Maddon said he’ll use either Peña or Buttrey in the ninth based on matchups and neither has a set role as closer.

“Right now, him and Buttrey are still the two most consistent on the other teams’ better hitters,” Maddon said. “Nobody's going to be labeled the closer. We're just gonna try to match it up late as well as we can, based on availability. And with Felix, I want to get him in on their best hitters late.”