No matter how eager Shohei Ohtani is to be back in the lineup, the Angels are not going to jeopardize his future for an immediate boost on offense.
Manager Brad Ausmus said Saturday at Angel Stadium that Ohtani will keep the schedule that was set for him after he underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery in October. May remains the target for Ohtani’s return to the lineup.
“I’m not going to risk Shohei’s health just because I think we’re not hitting as well,” Ausmus said. “Shohei will be back in the lineup when he’s back and healthy and ready to go.”
To this point, Ohtani has not experienced unusual discomfort in his right elbow. He has even been able to throw comfortably from a distance of up to 60 feet.
Since he won’t pitch until next year, Ohtani has focused on hitting. It’s already paid dividends. In his first interview in about two weeks, Ohtani said Thursday that his swing felt more powerful than last year, when he belted 22 homers and was the American League rookie of the year.
Ohtani said he felt well enough to rejoin the Angels as a designated hitter in April if they allowed him.
The absence of Ohtani and left fielder Justin Upton has taken a noticeable toll on the lineup. Even after beating the Texas Rangers 5-1 on Saturday, the team was batting a meager .201. The only players batting above .250 are Mike Trout (.385), Brian Goodwin (.353) and David Fletcher (.333). Two starters have fewer than three hits — Justin Bour, who is two for 25, and Zack Cozart, who’s one for 26.
Ohtani could provide a spark. Even while playing with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow last season, Ohtani batted .283 with a .935 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in his final 70 games.
“I can’t say for sure that just because I’m back in the lineup it’s going to make the team better,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “Obviously, I’m going to try my best to help the team win.”
Before he returns, Ohtani must face live pitching in either simulated games or in a minor league rehab assignment. A checkup soon will determine when he can advance to that stage.
“He’s on the schedule he’s supposed to be on,” Ausmus said. “If anything changes, we’ll let you know.”
Cole feeling good again
The line from right-hander Taylor Cole’s first rehab outing in the California League didn’t inspire awe: Over two-thirds of an inning at Inland Empire, he gave up four hits and a walk and three earned runs. He didn’t strike anybody out. He took the loss.
Although he regretted the results, Cole said Saturday in the Angels’ clubhouse that he felt encouraged by the appearance. He hadn’t been able to throw all his pitches — changeup, slider and fastball — without feeling pain since before his shoulder became sore in early March.
“I was able to let it go,” Cole said. “It didn’t hurt at extension, so that was a positive for me. And I was in the strike zone a lot. It wasn’t like I was sporadic. I was probably just in the strike zone too much.”
Cole will throw two innings at Inland Empire on Sunday. After the outing, the Angels will determine if he’s ready to be activated from the injured list or if he needs more time.
He has minor league options remaining on his contract, so the Angels can choose to send him back to triple-A Salt Lake City to start his season.
Cole had a 2.75 earned-run average and struck out 39 in 36 innings as a rookie reliever last year.
Right fielder Kole Calhoun is day to day with a right knee contusion. He crashed into the right-field wall trying to rob Texas’ Ronald Guzman of a leadoff hit in the third inning. He was replaced in the seventh inning of the Angels’ 5-1 win. … In his first game as the Angels’ leadoff hitter this season, Fletcher reached base four of five times. He hit a double and scored a run. “It’s tough to not like the things Fletch does,” Ausmus said. “He’s kind of the underdog.”