When Major League Baseball returns in July, so too will the full Shohei Ohtani experience.
According to new Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon, MLB’s best two-way player is back to full strength after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2018. Not only will Ohtani fulfill his regular designated hitter duties, he’s expected to rejoin the starting rotation when the season opens on July 23 or 24.
And the best news? There will be no restrictions.
“It’s a difference maker for us,” Maddon said Wednesday, courtesy of the Orange County Register. “But there are a lot of other teams in the same category, with guys they anticipated not being able to play the preponderance of the season and now they are able to play.”
Maddon is right about the delayed start allowing several players to recover from injuries. However, few are capable of making the impact Ohtani can. In his only season as a two-way MLB player back in 2018, Ohtani was excellent in both roles. At the plate, he hit .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers and 61 RBIs in 104 games. As a pitcher, he posted a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 10 starts covering 51 2/3 innings.
That production was enough to earn him Rookie of the Year honors in the American League.
Last season, Ohtani was restricted to designated hitter duties as his recovery continued. Despite not being 100 percent, he hit .286/.343/.505 with 18 homers in 106 games.
This season, Ohtani was poised to hit the ground running at the plate. However, the team had planned on delaying his rotation return until May so that he could continue building up arm strength. With that process complete, there’s no holding him back now.
Although Ohtani should be available from the start, Maddon said he has no plans to use him any differently than the way he was used when he was a two-way player in 2018. That means pitching once a week, with a day off before and after he starts. He’d be available to DH the days in between. That could work out to up to 10 starts and about 150 plate appearances.
“I haven’t really thought about a more aggressive stance with him,” Maddon said, adding that it would be an organizational decision, including input from general manager Billy Eppler and Ohtani.
“I don’t think it’ll happen right now,” Maddon said of using Ohtani more. “But it’s something I would love to see happen at some point.”
As with any pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery, there are no guarantees Ohtani will immediately return to his previous form. As long as he’s feeling good though, the Angels will take their chances. Last year’s staff finished bottom six in team ERA, which continued a problem that has plagued the franchise throughout most of Mike Trout’s big-league career.
Even an average Ohtani helps. If he’s quick to regain his previous form, his impact could be massive. In fact, in a short season without restrictions, Ohtani the two-way player has a chance to make the biggest impact of any player in MLB.
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