Posted on February 12, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

Los Angeles Angels Shohei Ohtani
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We already know that two-way Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani will serve only as a hitter for the Los Angeles Angels in 2019 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. However, his rehab is likely going to prevent him from serving in that role on opening day. New Angels manager Brad Ausmus indicated on Tuesday that Ohtani isn’t expected to be available to bat in games until May.

“I’m not going to put a date on it, but we’re thinking sometime in May. But that’s assuming everything goes well” Ausmus said of Ohtani’s return. “This is new territory in a sense that we’re dealing with a guy who DHs on a regular basis and is a starting pitcher. It’s new territory rehabbing Tommy John surgery, and we want to protect him long-term being able to do both. If we have to push it back, we will push it back.”

The 24-year-old Ohtani had Tommy John surgery last October. Even if the Angels wanted to rush him, which they don’t, it’s unlikely he would return in time to pitch in 2019. However, doctors have said it won’t harm Ohtani to take at-bats as a DH once he reaches a certain point in his rehab. The issue is that Ohtani is rehabbing from the surgery as both a pitcher and hitter simultaneously. That situation will make the Angels a little extra cautious.

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“The uniqueness of Shohei also coming back as a pitcher is that you’ll have to incorporate the throwing progressions, like throwing from farther distances,” said Angels GM Billy Eppler. “One of the things that we were mindful of is not introducing him to two new things in the same week.”

In a little over .300 at-bats last season, Ohtani hit .285 with 22 home runs and 21 doubles, helping him produce an OPS of .925. Needless to say, the Angels would love to have that kind of productivity in their lineup as much as possible. Not having him available for at least the first month of the season will certainly hinder their offense and force other players to step up.

With Ohtani unavailable until at least May, veteran Albert Pujols is expected to start the season as the team’s primary DH. Pujols underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last August, forcing him to end his 2018 campaign a month early. Barring a setback, he should be ready for the start of the season.

Of course, when Ohtani comes back, Pujols will have to move to first base in order to get both players in the lineup. The 39-year old Pujols started 70 games at first base last season, so he’s capable of playing there at least part-time and will share first base duties with Justin Bour this season. However, considering his age and his knee problems last year, Pujols will need regular rest. If Ohtani picks up where he left off offensively last season, Pujols could end up playing only a few times per week.

In the end, the Angels should find a way to get enough at-bats for Ohtani, Pujols, and Bour. But there’s no denying that Ohtani offers the most upside of the three offensively when healthy. If he avoids any setback on his rehab, he’ll have a chance to make a significant impact for the Halos this year, even as a DH. However, not having early in the season will make it more difficult for the Angels to start fast in 2019.

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