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Ohtani ready to 'rock and roll' as dual threat

@RhettBollinger
July 4, 2020

ANAHEIM -- As Angels manager Joe Maddon put it, two-way star Shohei Ohtani is ready to “rock and roll,” as he’s healthy and cleared to pitch and serve as designated hitter this season. Ohtani, who is coming off Tommy John and left knee surgeries, would’ve had to wait until mid-May

ANAHEIM -- As Angels manager Joe Maddon put it, two-way star Shohei Ohtani is ready to “rock and roll,” as he’s healthy and cleared to pitch and serve as designated hitter this season.

Ohtani, who is coming off Tommy John and left knee surgeries, would’ve had to wait until mid-May to return to the mound, but with the season pushed back roughly four months because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ohtani is fully healthy. It marks a return to two-way status for Ohtani, who was the American League Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2018 but was limited to serving as DH in ’19.

“It’s been normal for me to do hitting and pitching my whole professional career,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “Last year was a weird season for me, actually. I feel like I’m going to my normal routine this year. So in that sense I feel very comfortable. This season is a short season, so it’s more like a sprint than a marathon. I’m going to try to go 100 percent out of the gate and start and finish strong.”

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Ohtani has been training and working out at Angel Stadium since Spring Training was shut down in mid-March, as he was given an exemption to work out at the park because he was rehabbing his elbow injury. He threw a bullpen session on Friday and is nearing live bullpen sessions against hitters in the coming days. He believes facing hitters is the next big step for him, but he’s well-prepared for it.

“Physically, I was being prepared for the season to start at any time,” Ohtani said. “I was able to get good workouts in the last couple months. Mentally, I treated it like an offseason. I felt like it was unnecessary to get locked in without a date. But now that we have a date, I’m getting locked in and strong mentally.”

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As a rookie in 2018, Ohtani hit .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers, 21 doubles and 61 RBIs in 104 games as a DH, while also posting a 3.31 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings over 10 starts as a pitcher. Last year, as a DH, he batted .286/.343/.505 with 18 homers, 20 doubles and 62 RBIs in 106 games.

Ohtani will be on a similar schedule to his rookie season when he started once per week and served as designated hitter four to five times a week. With a 60-game season, it would allow Ohtani to make roughly eight to 10 starts on the mound and about 30 to 35 appearances as DH. Through 60 team games as a rookie, Ohtani hit .283/.367/.531 with six homers and 20 RBIs in 33 games, while making eight starts with a 3.18 ERA.

Ohtani’s two-way talent certainly intrigues Maddon, especially considering the 25-year-old has matured physically since his rookie season and appears primed for a breakout year.

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“He’s very internal,” Maddon said. “He’s analytical. He smiles easily. He is just a good soul. He is so dedicated to his craft. He wants to be great. That’s the takeaway I get from him. He’s motivated.”

Ohtani, though, will also have different mechanics this year, as he said he’s simplified his pitching delivery and is likely to ditch the leg kick that he worked on this offseason. Ohtani said it’ll be based on feel but ultimately doesn’t matter whether he uses a leg kick.

“Lifting or not lifting my leg is not a big deal for me,” Ohtani said. “It’s actually how my body reacts once my foot lands. So as long as I have the timing, the lifting the leg or not is not a big issue.”

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