Los Angeles (AFP) - Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani, already sure to be off the pitching mound for 2019 after surgery, will miss the start of the Major League Baseball season, Angels general manager Billy Eppler said.
A recent checkup with doctors went well and has allowed the 24-year-old Japanese standout to begin strengthening exercises for his surgically repaired right elbow, Eppler said Thursday.
But he also wiped out any notion that Ohtani, the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year, could return in time to serve as designated hitter when the Angels open the season March 28 at Oakland.
"What is clear to us is that the timing of his progression will not allow him to be active for opening day," Eppler said in a posting on the team website. "Anything beyond that or a timeline beyond that, I can't answer at this time. It's a multi-layered progression he has to go through. To pinpoint a time is unrealistic."
Ohtani underwent "Tommy John" ligament replacement surgery last October that will limit him to hitting only in the 2019 season. But he is only now getting ready to start swinging the bat in a rehabilitation campaign he hopes will see him serve as the Angels' main designated hitter.
Ohtani's rehabilitation work is made more complex because he is having to recover as both a pitcher and batter. As he works up to facing top-velocity pitches with a bat, he must boost his arm strength and the distances he throws before working off a mound.
"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," Eppler said.
"One of the things that we were mindful of is not introducing him to two new things in the same week. The easiest way to frame that is if he's going to hit off a tee, that would come one week, but perhaps if he was going to move back in his throwing progression, that happens in a different week.
"Each event is its own level. We're going level to level, so that's why it's hard to put a timeline."
Before pitchers and catchers arrive at the Angels training camp in Tempe, Arizona, on February 12, Ohtani will arrive to continue his work under the gaze of team trainers and medical staff.
Ohtani batted .285 with 22 home runs, 21 doubles and 61 runs batted in over 104 games last year while also going 4-2 with a 3.31 earned-run average with 63 strikeouts, 22 walks and six homers allowed in 51 2/3 innings as a starting pitcher.