Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon doesn’t expect Shohei Ohtani to pitch again this season, but he said he doesn’t consider Ohtani’s latest setback to be an indication that he can’t continue as a two-way player.
“From what I’m seeing, I believe that he can,” Maddon said before Tuesday’s road game against the Seattle Mariners. “We just gotta get past the [arm issues] and figure that out specifically.
“But I’ve seen it. He’s such a high-end arm and specifically what he can do in the batter’s box. Now maybe he’ll get to the point where he may choose to want to do one thing over the other and just express that to us. I know he likes to hit. As of right now, in my mind’s eye, he’s still gonna be able to do this.”
Ohtani was diagnosed with a Grade 1-2 strain of the flexor pronator mass, which helps stabilize the elbow, on Monday, one day after he was unable to break 90 mph near the end of a long second inning. Ohtani, 26, is with the Angels on their six-game road trip and will serve as the team’s designated hitter the rest of this season.
The Angels kept him out of Tuesday’s lineup while waiting for lingering soreness to subside, but Maddon said he hopes to get Ohtani back Wednesday or Thursday.
Maddon said he is “wide open” to how often he will use Ohtani as a DH and is under the impression that Ohtani’s current injury will not affect him as a hitter. Ohtani’s rehab as a pitcher, however, will be “very conservative,” Maddon said. The Angels said in a statement that pitchers coming back from injuries like Ohtani’s must wait about a month before restarting their throwing progression.
Ohtani failed to record an out July 26 against the Oakland A’s in his first start since October 2018 Tommy John surgery. He was throwing his fastball — a pitch that can reach triple digits — in the mid-90s.
On Sunday, Ohtani displayed a better fastball and showcased his trademark splitter in the first inning against the Houston Astros, but he walked the first three batters in the top of the second and issued two additional walks after back-to-back strikeouts. That prompted an abrupt exit after a 42-pitch half-inning. Ohtani later complained of discomfort in his throwing arm, which necessitated an MRI.
Mike Trout, who was activated off the paternity list Tuesday and joined top prospect Jo Adell in the Angels’ lineup, noticed Ohtani holding back in his first start but wasn’t worried. He watched Ohtani’s second start from home and said his concern grew.
“I could just tell something wasn’t right,” Trout said of Ohtani. “It’s tough for him. But he’s a unique player. If one thing doesn’t work, he can definitely keep hitting. That’s pretty cool.”
Ohtani showed promise as a pitcher in the first two months of the 2018 season, posting a 3.18 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 45⅓ innings and pairing that with a .925 OPS to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award. He batted .286/.343/.505 in 425 plate appearances in 2019 and was looking forward to returning to a two-way role in 2020 before his latest setback.
Next year might offer a better opportunity.
“I’m looking forward to him getting well and then utilizing a normal spring training, going into a regular season with a normal number of starts and all the things that permit guys to be ready for a year,” Maddon said. “That’s what you need to see again, some normalcy, before you make that type of determination [about his two-way status].”