Posted on May 7, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
It doesn’t happen often, but the Los Angeles Angels got some good news on the injury front Tuesday. The club activated pitcher and DH Shohei Ohtani from the Injured List for his season debut. His return is a little sooner than expected. Nevertheless, he will be a welcome addition for a team that’s in the bottom half of the American League in runs scored.
Of course, Ohtani won’t be able to pitch this season. He underwent Tommy John surgery last fall, and the Angels have no intention of rushing the 24-year-old phenom back to the mound after major surgery. However, the two-way Japanese sensation will be able to serve as the team’s DH while he continues to rehab as a pitcher. Even if the Angels don’t get both sides of Ohtani, they can still benefit from his bat in 2019.
When he wasn’t sidelined with elbow issues last season, Ohtani was crushing it in his first season as a major league hitter. In a little over 300 at-bats, he hit .285 with an OPS of .925, helped along by 22 home runs and 21 doubles. Obviously, the Angels are hoping to get that kind of productivity out of Ohtani again this season. If Tuesday’s lineup is any indication, he could become the club’s no. 3 hitter right behind Mike Trout, making him a prominent part of the Los Angeles lineup.
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“Baseball is certainly not the type of sports that you focus on one night,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said of Ohtani’s return. “We’re looking at using him as a DH for the vast majority of the next 4½ months. I’m not overly concerned about the immediate results, but just the long-term results.”
Comments from both Ausmus and Angels GM Billy Eppler implied that Ohtani would serve as the team’s primary DH this season. Those comments help to answer one of the questions that needed to be answered upon Ohtani’s return. Of course, if Ohtani is serving as the DH virtually every day, it means that Albert Pujols and Justin Bour are now in a timeshare at first base, as neither can play any other position other than first base or DH.
At this point in his career, playing the 39-year-old Pujols at first base on a regular basis is far from ideal. However, the Angels appear willing to do that in order to get Ohtani in the lineup as often as possible. With Bour off to such a poor start, hitting just .169 with an OPS of .578, Pujols could end up seeing a majority of the time at first base, which should be a stern test for him physically at his age.
Based on their season thus far, the Angels will do just about anything to improve their offense. Outside of Trout, who continues to be one of the best players in the game, only Tommy LaStella and Brian Goodwin have an OPS over .800 among the Los Angeles regulars. To be fair, the Halos have played the entire season without Justin Upton. But they are desperate for offense nevertheless. Ohtani should provide some help in that department, and not a moment too soon for a team that’s struggling to remain relevant in the AL West.