Shohei Ohtani downplayed the injury that will keep him from pitching again in 2020, describing it as inflammation in his right elbow and saying he’d like to return to two-way status next season.
Ohtani’s official injury is a grade 1-2 strain of the flexor pronator mass, which is essentially a forearm strain, but he said he never felt it on any specific pitch against the Astros on Sunday. He said he felt tightness and soreness in the elbow throughout his rehab process from Tommy John surgery, which made it difficult to discern when he suffered this injury. But Ohtani remains optimistic that he’ll pitch again next year after serving only as designated hitter the rest of this season.
"It's not as severe as my Tommy John -- it's just a little inflammation in my elbow," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "If it comes down to them telling me to just focus on hitting or focus on pitching, I will listen. But, ideally, I would like to leave the window open for me to do both."
Ohtani took batting practice without any issues before Wednesday’s game against the Mariners at T-Mobile Park, but he was held out of the lineup for a second straight day for precautionary reasons. He’ll be back in there at designated hitter for the series finale on Thursday.
“I need to focus on the season right now,” Ohtani said. “The only way for me to contribute is hitting, so I need to focus on that. Once I get to the offseason, I can have my normal throwing program and try to ramp it up."
Angels manager Joe Maddon said he plans on utilizing Ohtani as the regular DH going forward and that he’ll only sit against tough lefties. It’ll leave fewer at-bats at the position for Albert Pujols and hurts the Angels' flexibility with a crowded outfield now that top prospect Jo Adell is the regular right fielder, but the Angels want Ohtani’s bat in the lineup as much as possible.
Ohtani is hitting .148/.179/.407 with two homers, a double and seven RBIs in six games this year, and there's reason for optimism despite his low batting average, as he's hitting the ball hard and at a better launch angle that last year. Ohtani ranks third in the Majors in barrels per plate appearances, per Statcast, indicating he's essentially hitting the ball at the optimal launch angle and exit velocity at the third-best rate in baseball. His average launch angle is also back to 12 degrees -- like his rookie year in 2018 -- after it dipped to 6.8 last season.
He’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts. He has nine in 27 plate appearances, but the data shows he still makes hard contact when he connects.
"Once he comes back, he'll play as often as he can,” Maddon said. “Again, he would have played today if we were really comfortable with it, 100 percent. But you'll see him out there. When he's right, it's not going to matter if it's a right- or left-handed pitcher, and I know that.”
Simmons not close to a return
There was initially some optimism that shortstop Andrelton Simmons could return shortly after a 10-day stint on the injured list, but Maddon said Simmons isn’t close to returning despite being eligible to be activated on Thursday. Simmons suffered a sprained left ankle as he tried to beat out an infield single on July 27. David Fletcher has been filling in capably at short in Simmons’ absence.
“No finish line but I don't see it in the real immediate future,” Maddon said. “From what I read today, he is progressing, but it's not progressing as quickly as it could've possibly."
Bedrosian rehabbing, not throwing
Reliever Cam Bedrosian was placed on the injured list on Tuesday with a right adductor strain, but Maddon said Wednesday that he's not sure exactly how Bedrosian suffered the injury. His last appearance came on Sunday, when he recorded two outs against the Astros.
"He's doing fine," Maddon said. "It's so early on in the process that the [trainers] aren't really reporting on it other than that he is getting treatment and not throwing. I don't know the answer on how long it'll take."