It just won’t happen in 2020.
Before Tuesday's game against the Seattle Mariners, Maddon confirmed there are no plans for Ohtani to pitch again this season after he was diagnosed with a Grade 1-2 strain of the flexor pronator mass in his right arm. The best-case scenario would see Ohtani begin throwing again in 4-to-6 weeks, which wouldn’t leave much time for a return during the truncated season.
The setback is a concerning development for Ohtani’s development as a pitcher. Since his MLB debut in 2018, Ohtani has only made 12 starts. He didn’t pitch at all in 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Now another season is essentially lost due to his latest setback.
This season, Ohtani has pitched just 1 2/3 innings in two starts. In his season debut, he faced six batters but failed to record an out against the Oakland Athletics. On Sunday, he pitched a perfect first inning against the Houston Astros, but walked five and saw his velocity drop during the second inning.
The timeline of events have left some to question whether Ohtani can ever fully develop as a pitcher and sustain a productive career in both roles as a major league player. According to Maddon, the Angels haven’t reached that point.
“From what I’ve seen, I believe that he can be a two-way player,” Maddon said Tuesday, courtesy of the Orange County Register. “We just got to get past the arm maladies and figure that out.”
Fresh start for Ohtani
The best way to do that, according to Maddon, is to give Ohtani a fresh start in 2021.
Every pitcher’s arm responds differently to Tommy John surgery. Some regain their confidence, arm strength and full repertoire of pitches quickly. Others come along fast in one area but slower in other areas. And some just never get it back.
Ohtani doesn’t have it back ... yet. But that doesn’t mean it won’t come. The first year back rarely tells the whole story. That’s why there’s no real upside in pushing Ohtani to pitch again in 2020. Giving him time to heal and another full offseason geared toward rebuilding his strength and confidence will give him the best chance for success down the road.
In the meantime, Ohtani will continue serving as the Angels’ designated hitter.
Decision time for Ohtani?
While the Angels still believe Ohtani will be a two-way player, Maddon did acknowledge the possibility of Ohtani making a decision for them sometime in the future.
“He’s such a high-end arm and of course what he can do in the batter’s box,” Maddon said. “It might get to the point where he may choose to want to do one thing over the other and just express that to us.”
We wouldn’t expect a decision of that magnitude to come any time soon. But if the arm problems persist, a sacrifice may have to be made one way or the other.
Of course, nobody wants to see that. We all want the full Shohei Ohtani experience to take over MLB at some point. But more than anything, we want Shohei Ohtani on the field.
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