AFP/ Los Angeles
Shohei Ohtani is healthy and will be ready to hit and pitch when Major League Baseball’s delayed 2020 training camps open, Los Angeles Angels general manager Billy Eppler confirmed on Tuesday.
The two-way sensation from Japan didn’t pitch in 2019 after undergoing “Tommy John” tendon replacement surgery.
The Angels said in February that they didn’t expect him to pitch until at least May — and now that the season start has been pushed back to July 23 or 24 because of the coronavirus pandemic he’s expected to be a dual threat throughout the shortened 60-game season.
Angels manager Joe Maddon said last week that he expects Ohtani to rejoin the starting rotation when the season opens. Maddon told reporters he envisioned Ohtani pitching once a week and serving as a designated hitter on other days — perhaps three to four times a week.
“It’s a difference-maker for us,” Maddon said.
In his only MLB season as a two-way player, in 2018, Ohtani excelled in both roles. He averaged.285 in 326 at-bats with 22 home runs and 61 runs batted in.
On the mound he notched a 3.31 earned run average with 63 strikeouts over 51 2/3 innings in 10 starts on the way to earning American League Rookie of the Year honors.
Restricted to a designated hitter role last season, Ohtani belted 18 home runs with a batting average of.286.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Eppler also discussed steps the Angels are taking to ensure player health and safety as play begins with Covid-19 cases still rising in much of the United States.
Eppler said the team is removing couches and other furniture from the clubhouse and encouraging players to think of the area as a “closet” for hanging clothes rather than a place to relax.
He said he and Maddon will stress that players — and all staff — must adhere to MLB’s guidelines on social distancing and other protocols to avoid a damaging outbreak within the team.
“It’s important we do everything in our power to make sure all health and safety is at the forefront of every decision we make,” Eppler said.
He said no players on the team’s roster have voiced an interest in opting out of the shortened season over coronavirus concerns.
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