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OC Register: Angels’ Shohei Ohtani says he’s ready to have fun, including playing without restrictions

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When Shohei Ohtani arrived in the major leagues in 2018, facing skepticism that he could be a successful two-way player, he coped with the pressure by just trying to have fun.

He’s trying that again.

“It’s kind of how I felt in 2018,” Ohtani said through his interpreter in his first interview of the spring on Thursday. “Rather than have pressure, I just want to have fun and feel good out there, and just do my job when it’s given. Hopefully, I want to make Joe (Maddon) use me as much as possible.”

The 2018 Ohtani produced a .925 OPS at the plate and a 3.31 ERA on the mound, performances the Angels would love to see again.

They especially need him on the mound, where he’s barely been in the two seasons since undergoing Tommy John surgery.

He is now at 100 percent physically, including a more rigorous offseason workout regimen. After he threw a 27-pitch bullpen session on Thursday morning Ohtani said that his arm feels “much better than last year.”

Maddon said Ohtani had been up to 95 mph during throwing sessions before spring training, although the Angels reported him maxing out at 90 mph on Thursday.

“I’m not worried at all,” Ohtani said. “This is my first bullpen wearing a uniform this year, so I’m not too worried about the velo.”

Ohtani also didn’t seem concerned about the offensive slump he endured last season, when his OPS dropped to .657 and he found himself often benched at the end.

“I’ve been hitting all offseason and I think my swing is feeling really good right now,” Ohtani said. “My body is feeling good. I think we’re in a good spot hitting wise.”

If Ohtani continues to be healthy and he performs as well as he expects, the next question will be how the Angels will use him.

During his rookie season, the Angels had a strict schedule in which he didn’t pitch more than once every seven days and he didn’t hit the day before or after he pitched.

Maddon said that they are starting from scratch, with no predetermined restrictions. Maddon and Ohtani met on Thursday morning to discuss the plan.

“I feel really good about it,” Ohtani said. “He talked about how we need to communicate with each other more and earn each other’s trust and get to know each other. I feel really good about not having the restrictions.”

Maddon said they never got to the point of that conversation last year. In his first year working with Ohtani, Maddon didn’t know him well. And in spring training they already knew Ohtani wouldn’t pitch until mid May, so the discussion of incorporating both sides of his game hadn’t happened before the pandemic shutdown.

“I want him to tell me what he thinks, how he feels,” Maddon said before their meeting Thursday morning. “Shohei, what would be a good way for us to view you and and get the most out of your abilities this year, whether it’s on the mound, whether it’s hitting?…. This year I want him to take charge of his own path.”

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I actually like that they're coming in with no expectations except to stay healthy. So much of what I see in the league right now is put in place so that players don't get hurt. 

Playing not to get hurt is a quick way to get hurt. 

Obviously this should all occur within sense and moderation, but it's pretty clear Shohei was getting hurt when he was on such a strict schedule. So from where I'm sitting, it makes sense to simply let Shohei play. 

If he feels like he can hit the day after he pitches, then let him hit. 

If he feels like he needs a few days after pitching to recover strength and get over soreness, then give him rest. 

If he feels like he can pitch every 5th days, then let him. Similarly, if he feels fine after 100 pitches, let him keep throwing. 

And if he needs to skip a start, or isn't feeling it, or loses his stamina after 40 pitches, cut it short. But stop trying v to control every aspect of his game. Unleash him and see where it takes you. 

Edited by Second Base
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