TEMPE, ARIZONA – Shohei Ohtani swung off a tee and tracked pitches in the bullpen at the Los Angeles Angels’ spring training camp Wednesday as the two-way star ramps up efforts toward a return as designated hitter in May.
Ohtani, who had reconstructive elbow surgery on Oct. 1, took 40 swings on his sixth straight day batting off of a tee and said he felt good enough to take the next step, pending approval from the team.
“I have a feeling that I could (bat) well. All that’s left is whether or not I’ll be allowed to,” Ohtani said.
Including practice swings, Wednesday’s preseason session marked Ohtani’s 10th straight day using a bat. The 24-year-old appears on track for soft tosses soon and barring any setbacks will likely make his scheduled return as the Angels’ designated hitter in May.
“(Adjustments) are going as planned,” Ohtani said. “I’m still just hitting off a tee, so even if I do it continuously it’s not a problem. So far it hasn’t been so intense.”
When Jaime Barria, who went 10-9 in his rookie season last year, went into the bullpen for practice, Ohtani took a break from weight training and joined him, tracking 22 pitches off the Panamanian right-hander.
“Pitchers are throwing in actual games (now) to a certain extent, and I want to get the timing down so I don’t have any trouble at the plate,” Ohtani said.
Though likely sidelined from the mound until the 2020 season, Ohtani took notice of his fellow Japanese pitchers as they made their preseason debuts in Arizona.
The American League Rookie of the Year shared his sympathies with Chicago Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish, who made his first start in over six months after returning from an elbow injury that cut his 2018 short.
“I think there are some nerves and anxiety when you make a return to the mound,” he said of Darvish, who left Japan’s Nippon Ham Fighters for the major leagues two seasons before Ohtani debuted for the team.
Regarding new Seattle Mariners left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, Ohtani said he hoped to be in shape to take the plate against his fellow alumnus at Iwate Prefecture’s Hanamaki Higashi High School.
“It will be good if I can make a strong comeback,” he said.
Last year, Ohtani batted .285 with 22 homers and 61 RBIs in 367 plate appearances. As a pitcher, he went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 10 starts.