After another session of indoor batting practice Wednesday, Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani pronounced himself close to taking swings outdoors, one of the final hurdles he must clear during his rehabilitation from elbow ligament reconstruction.
“That’s my next step in the hitting,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “As long as the people around me, the medical staff, say it’s OK.”
Ohtani is not expected to join the active roster until May, and he is not expected to pitch in 2019. But his presence in the lineup will be crucial for the Angels. As a rookie last season, while splitting time on the mound, Ohtani hit 22 home runs with a .925 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Manager Brad Ausmus indicated Ohtani is “on target” in his recovery. Ohtani played catch Wednesday, making 70 throws at a maximum distance of 50 feet. He also took 10 swings off a tee, 10 off an underhand toss and 10 from an overhand toss. Ohtani began taking swings indoors last weekend.
“Body-wise, I feel well,” Ohtani said. “There are still some parts of the hitting that I need to polish.”
As Ohtani worked out at Tempe Diablo Stadium, a group of Angels regulars appeared in a minor league setting across the complex. One of those players was outfielder Mike Trout, who agreed to a 12-year, $425.6 million extension earlier this week.
Trout did not address the deal Wednesday because the team has not made it official. He is likely to speak with reporters later this week. Ohtani is thrilled for his teammate.
“I’m really happy and excited to be able to play with such a great player for such a long time,” Ohtani said. “If anyone was to deserve such a big contract, it’s Mike. I think he surely deserves it.”
Pujols pointed toward DH
With Ohtani on the mend for the season’s first month, the Angels often will have a vacancy at designated hitter. That spot is likely to be filled by Albert Pujols, who played the majority of his games at first base last season. He underwent season-ending knee surgery last August.
“To keep him healthy the entire year, I think DH-ing is one way of doing it,” Ausmus said. “DH-ing, and some rest time, quite frankly.”
Pujols played designated hitter only 47 times in 2018. He played that role in 143 games in 2017 and 123 in 2016.
Pujols turned 39 in January. He has hit .375 with a 1.038 on-base plus slugging percentage in 12 games this spring. Ausmus described Pujols’ performance as “workmanlike.”
“He’s had two decades doing this,” Ausmus said. “He’s had some good at-bats, and he’s had some spring-training at-bats. Overall, I thought he’s been good.” He added, “He hasn’t had any physical issues, which is a huge plus.”