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OC Register: Shohei Ohtani eager to return to two-way role with Angels

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ANAHEIM — Shohei Ohtani has been waiting a long time to be comfortable again.

Before missing three and a half months because of the sport’s coronavirus shutdown, Ohtani had spent more than 17 months rehabbing as a pitcher after Tommy John surgery.

Now, he can finally see the finish line. When baseball season begins later this month, Ohtani will again be a two-way player.

“Last year was a weird season for me, actually,” Ohtani said through his Saturday. “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.”

That would be a blessing for the Angels, who would get a huge boost if Ohtani can pitch at the level he showed in 2018.

Ohtani has been throwing to hitters during workouts during the shutdown, but he hasn’t faced a hitter during the first two days of official team workouts. He will move on to that in the next few days, and then be able to pitch in intrasquad games.

“I’ll ramp up my intensity there and see how my arm reacts,” Ohtani said. “But as of now, I feel really good.”

Manager Joe Maddon said last week the Angels plan to use Ohtani as they did in 2018, before he injured his elbow. Ohtani pitched once a week, at most, and was the designated hitter in between. That season, Ohtani posted a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts, along with a .925 OPS and 22 homers in 367 plate appearances.

But 2019 did not quite live up to the standard he set, aside from the fact he couldn’t pitch because of his rehab.

Ohtani hit just 18 homers in 425 plate appearances, with his OPS dropping to .848. The AL OPS was .762. The difference was not really the quality of contact, but the launch angle, which dropped from 12.3 degrees in 2018 to 6.8 degrees in 2019.

In order to try to improve as a hitter, Ohtani was experimenting in spring training with bringing back the leg kick that he had abandoned just before the start of the 2018 season.

Now, after three months of workouts, he said he’s not going to use much of a leg kick.

“Actually lifting or not lifting my leg is not a big deal for me,” he 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.”

Ohtani, who turns 26 on Sunday, said he hasn’t done much but work on his game during the quarantine. When he wasn’t at the ballpark or in the gym, he was mostly sleeping, he said.

Maddon, who has gotten his first extended exposure to Ohtani over the past six months, said he’s been impressed with his commitment to improvement.

“He is so dedicated to his craft,” Maddon said. “He wants to be great. He doesn’t just want to be good. He wants to be great. So that’s really the takeaway I get from him. He’s really motivated.”


Julio Teheran is among the players who have not yet begun working out in either Anaheim or Long Beach, although Maddon couldn’t say why. Teams aren’t permitted to disclose a positive COVID-19 test without the player’s consent, but there are other coronavirus-related reasons a player may be unavailable. Players could still be waiting for test results, or a family member may be awaiting test results. Players also must quarantine for a certain number of days after traveling, so that could cause a short delay in arriving at camp. …

The Angels first intrasquad game will be Tuesday, a day earlier than Maddon had indicated previously. Maddon had said on Friday that they would have five days of workouts before the game, but he didn’t realize pitching coach Mickey Callaway had counted Thursday’s throwing sessions as the first day. …

Maddon said he is hoping to get the starters stretched out to about 90 pitches by the start of the season. Normally starters would not throw much more than 90 pitches in spring training before stretching out to 100 in the season. …

Maddon attended the workout in Long Beach on Saturday, and had positive reviews for the condition of Blair Field and what he dubbed “the Jered Weaver bullpen.” The former Angels ace pitched at Long Beach State. “It is reminiscent of any high-A, double-A ballpark,” Maddon said.

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