It was a brutal 2020 for Shohei Ohtani, whose return to fully operational two-way status was sidetracked by an elbow injury. In the end, Ohtani didn’t produce either as a pitcher or as a hitter for the Angels.
Rehabbing from an elbow injury that prevented him from pitching in 2019, Ohtani started the pandemic-truncated 2020 season in the Angels starting rotation. In theory, the Angels were going to benefit from a shortened season, with Ohtani — who spent the first few months of the shutdown still rehabbing — able to pitch a larger percentage of the team’s innings, strengthening a thin starting rotation.
But it didn’t work out that way at all.
In his first start on the mound, Ohtani faced six batters and didn’t retire a single one, allowing three singles, three walks, and five runs. A week later, Ohtani pitched a perfect first inning before the wheels fell off. He walked five of his seven batters faced in a 42-pitch second inning that he didn’t even complete.
The next day, Ohtani was shut down with a grade 1-2 strain of the flexor pronator mass in his right elbow, and didn’t pitch again all year. He faced 16 batters, walked eight, struck out three, allowed three hits and seven runs, and recorded five outs. That’s a 37.80 ERA.
Unlike 2019, Ohtani couldn’t fall back on above-average offensive production when he wasn’t pitching. He hit four home runs in an eight-game stretch early on, and through August 11 had a respectable, albeit power-heavy .827 OPS.
But over his final 32 games, Ohtani was just 18 for 104 with three home runs, hitting .173/.289/.288. He became a non-entity on offense, no longer hitting the ball hard. After ranking in the top four percent of MLB in exit velocity in his first two years, Ohtani dropped three ticks to 89.1 mph, with an expected .235 batting average and .426 slugging.
Ohtani sat against seven straight left-handers in the final four weeks before getting a start against a southpaw on the final day of the season. It was a lost year all the way around.
There’s hope the Angels will get the dynamic two-way Ohtani again at some point. New general manager Perry Minasian at his introductory press conference in November praised Ohtani, while acknowledging his struggles.
“He’s beyond talented. He can do things that 99 percent of the people can’t. But this is a hard game, and he’s a young player, I think we lose sight of how old he is,” Minasian said. “He’s a young player going through ups and downs early in his career. I look forward to watching him play. I think he’s going to be a huge part of this club. I think he’s going to help us win games in a lot of ways.”
Last week, manager Joe Maddon said Ohtani was doing well in his offseason rehab, from Rhett Bollinger at MLB.com: “I want [his name written] in pen, it just depends on his health. Everything I’m hearing is good. No setbacks. I’m hearing good stuff. We’re really excited about that.”
Health will be the key for Ohtani in 2021. But before we can think about two-way Ohtani returning, the Angels need one-way Ohtani at the very least.
Stats: .190/.291/.366, 84 wRC+, 7 HR; 37.80 ERA, 13.99 FIP, 1⅔ IP, 8 BB, 3 K
Game of the year
On August 10 against the A’s, Ohtani homered, doubled, walked, and drove in two runs in a 10-9 Angels win.
Ohtani has three years of major league service time, and is eligible for salary arbitration this winter.