Rejoice, Halo fans. Shohei Ohtani has been cleared to face live pitching as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery.
This is the final step Shohei Ohtani needs to take before he begins either simulation games or a rehab assignment in extended Spring Training or the minor leagues. And for the Angels, it may mean getting their slugger back earlier than expected.
Ever since the Angels declared Ohtani wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day, they have been adamant that he would return in early May. While Ohtani has said numerous times he thinks he’ll be ready earlier than the team thinks, that he was going to comply with their schedule.
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However, it is in the Angels best interest to get Ohtani back into the lineup as soon as possible. The team has bordered around .500 for the past week or so. The offense needs every ounce of power it can get, and Ohtani can provide pounds of it. While I’m not recommending the team rush him back, if the doctors clear Ohtani prior to the early May target date, get the reigning Rookie of the Year into the lineup.
Speaking of which, what will that lineup look like once Ohtani returns? Obviously he profiles to hit #3 behind Mike Trout as an everyday hitter, though his rehabilitation towards pitching in 2020 remains the Angels’ focus for their star.
As we all know, Ohtani will not play the field in 2019. He is completely restricted to the designated hitter role. That does limit the Angels’ options when it comes to the rest of the lineup and who sits in Ohtani’s place, but also simplifies the process.
Whenever Ohtani does return, the obvious choice will be for him to be the everyday designated hitter. Albert Pujols and Justin Bour have been manning the first base/designated hitter roles so far this season, but when Ohtani returns we could likely see those two platoon first base.
With Pujols a righty and Bour a lefty, there’s a case for a class platoon based on starting pitcher. Pujols is hitting a phenomenal .313 against southpaw starters this year, and Bour has a historic difference when it comes to facing right-handed starters vs. left-handed ones.
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If I had to bet on one strategy, that would be my guess as to how the Angels handle the lineup once Ohtani returns. It makes too much sense to not be the first choice for Brad Ausmus.
However, as long as they aren’t taking Mike Trout out of the lineup, the Halos can sub Ohtani in for anybody and see a significant boost in their offense.