Now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, two-way star Shohei Ohtani is fully healthy and ready to make his first return to the mound since Sept. 2, 2018, when he starts Sunday against the A’s.
Angels manager Joe Maddon said Ohtani will not be on any pitch-count restrictions, and Ohtani is excited about the opportunity to start again. The right-hander made 10 starts during his AL Rookie of the Year season in 2018, posting a 3.31 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings.
"Obviously, I'm not gonna be facing my teammates like I did in camp, so naturally I think my intensity is gonna go up," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “[I feel] a little mix of everything from worries to excitement, especially since there's gonna be no fans here too, which will be weird. So I’ll take all that into account.”
Ohtani served as the designated hitter in a 7-3 loss to the A's on Opening Day, going 1-for-5, and he struck out with the bases loaded in the ninth before being thrown out at third while serving as MLB’s first automatic runner in the 10th. But now he won’t return to the lineup until Tuesday’s home opener against the Mariners.
Ohtani’s plan is similar to his rookie season, as he’ll start on the mound on Sundays but won’t be in the lineup on Saturdays or Mondays. The Angels chose Sunday because they have three off-days on Monday over the course of the season. The math lines up Ohtani for 10 starts and 33 appearances as DH.
But Maddon said Ohtani’s usage could change late in the season if they’re in a playoff race, and it could also be altered if they make the postseason. Ohtani had experience in Japan hitting on the same day as he pitched, and having his bat in the lineup would certainly be a huge boost.
"When you get to the playoffs, things could change,” Maddon said. “I could even think that they could change towards the end of the season as you’re in the hunt, and then all of a sudden you might soften things up a bit.”
Maddon added that the plan with Ohtani could change next year and become more aggressive, as he’ll be further removed from Tommy John surgery and his left knee surgery in September.
“I think we’ll grow out of this,” Maddon said. “He’s coming off the injury, all the adaptations he’s making, so hopefully next year would be a year I would think with really good health that you could start maybe working into a different method.”
Rendon continues to progress
Third baseman Anthony Rendon was held out of the lineup for the second straight game with oblique soreness but is making progress, fielding ground balls and taking batting practice before the game. There’s a chance Rendon could return versus Oakland, but it appears more likely he'll make his Los Angeles debut in Tuesday’s home opener against the Mariners.
“I talked to him yesterday before the game, I saw him doing some exercises right outside of my office,” Maddon said. “Very encouraged. He’s feeling better. After today’s workout we’ll have a better indicator for where he’s at specifically. But he’s definitely making progress.”