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OC Register: Angels’ Shohei Ohtani expected to start pitching in May

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Angels fans are going to have to wait a little longer to see Shohei Ohtani on the mound.

The Angels are targeting mid-May for Ohtani to make his 2020 regular-season debut on the mound, general manager Billy Eppler said, as Angels pitchers and catchers reported for spring training Tuesday. The Angels are planning on Ohtani being used as the designated hitter from Opening Day.

The Angels have been hinting at this possibility for weeks, so it’s no surprise.

Ohtani was always going to be on an innings limit after having Tommy John surgery Sept. 30, 2018. Ohtani didn’t finish his pitching rehab until two months ago, because the program had to be stopped for three months after he had knee surgery, so the Angels decided the best course of action was simply to wait before using him as a pitcher.

Had Ohtani started the season on the mound, he still likely would have had to skip starts or take a break to manage his innings. Ohtani pitched 140 innings in 2016 in Japan, followed by 25 1/3 innings his final year in Japan and 51 2/3 innings his first season in the majors. He did not pitch in 2019.

Even though this will be Ohtani’s third season in the majors, and he will not have pitched from start to finish in any of them, Eppler said the overall value he brings to the team makes it worth waiting through these issues.

“Shohei Ohtani is a huge talent for us and I think it’s very evident to everybody the contributions that he makes, so I wouldn’t characterize anything as disappointing,” Eppler said.

Ohtani, 25, won the Rookie of the Year award in 2018, when he hit 22 homers with a .925 OPS and posted a 3.31 ERA. As a hitter only in 2019, he hit 18 homers with an .848 OPS.

“The big thing there is, to me, when you’re the steward of somebody that’s going to be that good for a long period of time, you have to be careful,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “I think patience is a key word with all of this.”

Exactly how the Angels will prepare Ohtani to pitch remains to be seen, but they will benefit from a new rule change.

The Angels will now be allowed to have Ohtani make minor-league rehab appearances as a pitcher while remaining on the active roster as a hitter. That means he could leave the team for a day to pitch a game in the minors, and be eligible to hit in the majors the day before and the day after. The Angels still may opt not have to him him immediately the day before or after, but it would be better than having him on the injured list.

Eppler said Ohtani can threw simulated games in what would be his first few spring training starts while staying with the major-league team. He likely wouldn’t need to pitch in the minors until he gets to a workload of more than 50 or 60 pitches, which would probably be his last three or four outings.

“I think there’s value in pitching him against guys in a different uniform here and there,” Eppler said. “We’ll do that when we can, and when he builds up to that workload to do that.”

Once Ohtani is back pitching in the majors, the plan remains for him to pitch once a week, Eppler said. With 26 weeks in the season, that could mean about 20 starts for Ohtani, although Eppler wouldn’t give a number.

Eppler also said the Angels won’t use a true six-man rotation, but they will insert an extra starter to give the other starters an extra day of rest when the schedule makes it appropriate.

With the plans for Ohtani now clear, the Angels will definitely have at least one more spot up for grabs in the rotation at the outset of the season. Barring injury, Andrew Heaney, Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran are locks for the rotation, and Maddon said Griffin Canning “has got a pretty good shot to be part of that group.”

Patrick Sandoval, Jose Suarez, Jaime Barría, Dillon Peters, Félix Peña and Matt Andriese would seemingly be the leading candidates for the fifth spot. Peña, who is rehabbing from knee surgery but is already throwing, and Andriese could also pitch out of the bullpen.

The other impact of Ohtani’s early absence from the mound is that he will be available to be the designated hitter almost every day for a month and a half, which will put a premium on Albert Pujols’ ability to play first base.

Pujols, 40, played 98 games at first last season, and Eppler said he “didn’t see a reason why he wouldn’t be able to (play at that volume) if that’s what Joe asks him to do.”

Maddon, who met with Pujols last month, said that will be a topic for spring training.

“His offseason has been spectacular, from a workout perspective,” Maddon said. “He’s highly motivated. I don’t want to create any marks in the sand. Let’s come to camp and talk and watch. Of course, he’s going to need rest. Of course, the more we parse it out, the better he will be for the playoffs and the latter part of the season. I’m really aware of that.”

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3 hours ago, Glen said:

And so it begins.  Mid-May will turn into June.

 

35 minutes ago, Taylor said:

There was an article about a month ago that said the same thing. This isn't news.

 

 

And so it began.

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56 minutes ago, rafibomb said:

Is this really a rehab thing? Or is this a thing to make sure he pitches more towards the end of the season rather than him reaching his limit and getting shut down before the playoff race? 

It’s this.  

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1 hour ago, rafibomb said:

Is this really a rehab thing? Or is this a thing to make sure he pitches more towards the end of the season rather than him reaching his limit and getting shut down before the playoff race? 

It’s the latter and it’s a good point.

Calm, blue ocean peoples. 

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Not sure why anyone is surprised.  He wasn't going to start more than 20 games anyway.  Makes sense to do it this way, especially in light of the new rehab rule.  This way he could be available late in the season. Looking forward to seeing him on the mound again. I think some are forgetting how good he looked at times... and those were his first few major league starts.

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2 hours ago, rafibomb said:

Is this really a rehab thing? Or is this a thing to make sure he pitches more towards the end of the season rather than him reaching his limit and getting shut down before the playoff race? 

I think the Angels are manipulating the rule to do this. Ohtani won’t actually be “rehabbing” but they can say he is since he just had surgery. He’s just going to be having his spring training in April in Inland Empire instead of March in Tempe. 

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2 hours ago, rafibomb said:

Is this really a rehab thing? Or is this a thing to make sure he pitches more towards the end of the season rather than him reaching his limit and getting shut down before the playoff race? 

 

1 hour ago, RBM said:

It’s the latter and it’s a good point.

Calm, blue ocean peoples. 

 

28 minutes ago, Jeff Fletcher said:

I think the Angels are manipulating the rule to do this. Ohtani won’t actually be “rehabbing” but they can say he is since he just had surgery. He’s just going to be having his spring training in April in Inland Empire instead of March in Tempe. 

I agree. 

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