Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani threw his first official bullpen session of the spring on Thursday, throwing 27 pitches to newly acquired catcher Kurt Suzuki. Ohtani, who had hit 95 mph in his offseason throwing sessions, topped out at 90 mph.
Ohtani, though, felt good throwing and is currently healthy after being limited to just two starts in 2020 because of a right elbow/forearm strain. The main focus with Ohtani right now is getting him ready to go as a starting pitcher and then he’ll get more reps as a designated hitter as camp goes along.
"It was just my first bullpen so I wasn't really worried about the velo," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "I trained all offseason, so I feel much better than last year."
The Angels plan to be more aggressive with Ohtani as a two-way player this season, although they haven’t officially revealed his usage plan. Angels manager Joe Maddon, however, said Ohtani won’t have any limits this season and spoke with him about it again on Thursday.
"I feel really good about it,” Ohtani said. “We talked about how we need to communicate more during the season. I feel really good about not having the restrictions."
That open communication will be key, as Maddon said he’ll rely on Ohtani to let him know how he’s feeling and what he’s comfortable doing. It could mean Ohtani serves as DH on the day before or after his starts.
“I want to talk to him, and I want him to tell me what he thinks and what he feels,” Maddon said. “What would be a good way to get the most out of your abilities this year, whether it’s on the mound or hitting? Is it more difficult to DH the day before or after you pitch? I really want to hear from him. I never really had that conversation with him last year.”
One of the keys to getting Ohtani back on track is rebuilding his confidence, as he struggled with his command last season and it carried over into a rough year offensively as well. The Angels are trying to get him back to where he was in 2018, when Ohtani was a force as a pitcher and a hitter en route to winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
Ohtani said he’s trying to relax and have fun more this season, something Maddon has preached since last year. Ohtani also doesn’t have to worry about his contract status either after signing a two-year deal worth $8.5 million on Feb. 9. He remains under team control through 2023.
“I’m glad that’s out of the way so I can focus on baseball,” Ohtani said. “I’m not too worried about the total amount or anything. I also don’t like looking too far ahead, and so I take it year by year.”
Ohtani was discreet when describing his offseason training methods. He preferred not to say where he trained, but did say he utilized a third party and started a new diet to feel healthier and stronger. Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, said earlier this month that Ohtani ramped up the intensity of his workouts this offseason, including simulating game-like situations on the mound and at the plate before arriving at Spring Training.
“Every offseason, I spend it a little differently,” Ohtani said. “It's not like I do the same thing every offseason. I felt like it was a good idea to go and use a third party. They have really good opinions, some good data, some good intake. I think there's a lot that I could take away from it, so it's been really good."