TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Shohei Ohtani has no problem with the Los Angeles Angels' plan to delay his return to the mound so they can preserve his pitching arm for later in the season.
The two-way star also wouldn't have minded if the Angels wanted him to start on opening day, either.
Ohtani reacted positively Wednesday to the Angels' announcement of their plan to delay his return to the mound until mid-May.
“I was getting prepared to start the year on opening day,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “But if that’s what the team wants me to do, then I’ll be prepared to delay my debut. I don’t see any problems.”
The Angels are exercising caution with the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year, who hasn't pitched since undergoing Tommy John surgery after his rookie season stateside.
The team is also apparently planning to keep Ohtani to an innings limit over the season, and delaying his return to the mound allows the Angels to concentrate his innings later in the regular season, when the Halos hope to be in a pennant race.
Ohtani declined to specify his innings limit, but acknowledged he is unlikely to hit it.
“Since I’m going to be waiting until mid-May, I won’t be close to (throwing) 200 innings,” said Ohtani, who pitched at least 140 innings in three straight seasons with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. “From there on out, I’m planning on finishing out the year. I think that’s one of the biggest responsibilities of a pitcher, to stay in the rotation healthy and try to finish out the year.”
Ohtani finished his elbow rehabilitation in December, completing a process that was delayed by knee surgery three months earlier.
Ohtani will be ready to resume his everyday role as the Angels' designated hitter from opening day, however.
Ohtani will take days away from the Angels early in the season to pitch in minor league starts designed to build his arm strength, general manager Billy Eppler said Tuesday.
Thanks to a baseball rule change confirmed Wednesday, Ohtani won't count against the limit of 13 pitchers on a 26-man roster. Ohtani will qualify for a special designation as a two-way player.
Ohtani isn't neglecting his hitting while he prepares for his pitching return. He reported to spring training with plans to hone his swing after he batted .286 with 18 homers, 62 RBIs and a .848 OPS last season.
“There’s some stuff I need to work on,” Ohtani said. “I'm trying to use spring training to get over those hurdles. We also added three position players, so I don’t know where I’m going to be hitting in the lineup. ... I think we made a lot of good additions. Our team is growing in the right direction."