TEMPE, Ariz. — Shohei Ohtani tossed his water bottle toward a clubhouse garbage can and missed, instead landing it in a laundry bin. He laughed out loud, smiled big as he so often does, then retrieved the trash and put it in the proper place.
That’s about as close to throwing as the Japanese two-way star is right now.
Ohtani wouldn’t change how he handled his elbow injury late last year, continuing to hit for the Angels until season’s end even if it meant delaying reconstructive surgery and his ability to pitch again until 2020.
“I have no regrets about what happened last year. That’s what the team thought about me, the plan,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “In the end it didn’t work out but I still have no regrets.”
The reigning AL Rookie of the Year is recovering from an Oct. 1 Tommy John surgery with the hope he will be able to bat in the Los Angeles lineup as early as May if all stays on schedule.
“There’s a lot of variables. That’s the goal I’m shooting for but there might be some setbacks here and there,” Ohtani said. “If not, that’s what I’m trying to go for.”
At Tempe Diablo Stadium, the scene Wednesday was a far cry from a year ago when Ohtani showed up at spring training with fanfare and faced a huge media contingent following his every move. For now, the two-way star isn’t even on the field as he works out inside.
Even the second time around, “I feel just as nervous as last year, my first year.”
Ohtani acknowledged that’s partly because he’s behind schedule with the extensive rehab and will have to “catch up to everybody.”
“It’s going to be a slow process,” new manager Brad Ausmus said ahead of his club’s first on-field session for pitchers and catchers. “He gets his workouts in. Right now he’ll be mostly inside. We need to protect this guy long term, so we’re hoping for May. But if it goes longer, it goes longer.”
The 24-year-old Ohtani spent time back home in Japan this offseason working through his rehabilitation, which right now includes dry swings only in terms of his hitting preparation.
Ohtani said everything is going smoothly at this stage.
“So far there’s nothing in my elbow, I don’t feel anything there. It’s been great,” he said. “I just need to watch my effort level, try to keep it down and listen to the trainers.”
Ohtani went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts as a pitcher. He played 104 games overall as a rookie, hitting .285 with 22 homers and 61 RBIs.
While the Angels can’t wait to get Ohtani healthy to hit, they won’t rush him. He and Albert Pujols are expected to share designated hitter duties, with Pujols playing first on days Ohtani hits — that is, if Pujols is physically fine and performing, otherwise Justin Bour becomes an option. The free agent first baseman signed a $2.5 million, one-year deal in December.
“That’s why we’re saying we’re going to be extremely cautious because we don’t want the fact that he might be able to DH affect him being able to pitch in 2020,” Ausmus said of Ohtani.
Ohtani has accepted this year will be about what he can do behind the plate.
“This season I’m obviously going to be prioritizing my hitting. That’s what I’m going to focus on right now,” he said. “We can push back the pitching because I’m not going to be pitching this season. So the plan is to get back hitting first and take it easy on the pitching side.”