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OC Register: Angels’ Shohei Ohtani reflects on disappointing season and ahead to two-way role in 2021

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For Shohei Ohtani, like so many others in the world, 2020 has not been anywhere close to what he expected.

Ohtani and the Angels and their fans and all of baseball, really, had hoped to see a healthy Ohtani reprise his role as a successful two-way player in the majors, picking up where he left off in 2018.

Instead, he was barely a one-way player.

Ohtani pitched parts of three innings before a forearm strain ended his season as a pitcher. The injury was not considered serious, but it was still too much to overcome in a season this short.

And at the plate, Ohtani was hitting .188 with a .662 OPS heading into the final day of the season.

As he spoke to reporters for the final time this season on Sunday morning, Ohtani said he’s still committed to being a two-way player, and confident that he can do it successfully.

“I feel the exact same way abut being a two-way player as I did in the past,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “I just need to get past me being able to throw without any worries, or any setbacks. And once I get through that point, I think everything’s going to fall into place.”

Ohtani is expected to resume his throwing program within a month, and barring any further setbacks, he should have a normal offseason. The Angels plan to build him up to pitch in 2021 through a normal spring training.

They had a plan for 2020, of course. Ohtani completed the rehab from Tommy John surgery by last December. His arm was ready to go. Because this was going to be his first full season as a pitcher since 2016, they planned to limit his innings.

In order to stretch those innings to the end of the season — ideally, through October — the Angels wanted him to essentially begin his spring training as a pitcher in April and have him pitching in major league games by mid May.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic shut down the minor leagues, and Ohtani was left with nothing but bullpen sessions, simulated games and intrasquad games before pitching in a major league game on July 26. His first and second games ended badly, the latter with an injury.

“I’m sure if I were  able to spend the regular, normal rehab schedule, the results might have been different, but I can’t say for sure,” Ohtani said. “That’s like ifs and buts. But I’m pretty sure it would have been a little different.”

Left only to hit, Ohtani was also below expectations there. He struggled so much that he was benched for a week in September.

“Obviously the numbers show that I didn’t have a great year, and I’m fully aware of that,” Ohtani said. “And I found a lot of things I need to work on in the offseason. It is kind of the same for every year but this year might be a little different. I still have a lot of things to work on so I’m looking forward to getting that underway in the offseason.”

One issue may have been the inability to check video of his at-bats during games, he said. Because of social distancing protocols this year, video rooms were closed to players during games.

“I just want to see how I was swinging at certain pitches in certain zones,” Ohtani said. “Ideally I would like to be able to see the replays. It probably would have helped me.”

Throughout Ohtani’s struggles, Manager Joe Maddon remained confident in his ability to figure it out, eventually.

The Angels are still clinging to the optimism because Ohtani is 26 and currently healthy, and he has already shown he’s a good enough athlete to succeed as a two-way player.

In 2018, with zero previous major league experience, he had a .925 OPS and hit 22 homers over 367 plate appearances. He also posted a 3.31 ERA over 10 starts and 51-2/3 innings.

Even in 2020, there were moments when he hit booming homers and showed his speed. There was even a flash of the talent during his blink of an eye on the mound. In one of his three innings he retired the side in order, throwing 96 mph fastballs and diving splitters.

“He’s going to get it,” Maddon said earlier this month. “He’ll get back to normal patterns, and start tearing it up.”

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