Los Angeles Angels' two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani is expected to return to the mound this year after Tommy John surgery prevented him from pitching in 2019. Thanks to a recent rule change by Major League Baseball, the Angels will be able to send Ohtani on a rehab assignment as a pitcher without placing him on the injured list and losing him from the lineup.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler disclosed that rule tweak to MLB Network Radio's Mike Ferrin during an interview on Friday. "One of those [rule changes] is that we'll be able to send Shohei on an actual rehab assignment as a pitcher, and then the very next day, if we so choose, we can use him in a major-league game as a hitter," Eppler said.
Lest MLB be accused of favoritism, or bending the rules to benefit the Angels, there is a downside worth noting. Eppler said that the Angels must play shorthanded -- that is, with a 25-man roster -- on the days when Ohtani is out on assignment. In other words, the Angels can't have him pitch in a minor-league game and bat in a big-league game on the same day.
Nonetheless, it's a smart and necessary move on MLB's part. Under the old framework, the Angels would have had to place Ohtani on the injured list or get by without a rehab assignment. This is a proactive nod toward the two-way player, a blossoming concept in recent years.
The Angels are expected to again implement a six-man rotation to limit Ohtani's workload, having continued their pursuit of pitching after adding Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran this winter. Ohtani has hit .286/.351/.532 (135 OPS+) in 792 career plate appearances. In 10 big-league starts, he's averaged just over five innings while notching a 3.31 ERA (127 ERA+) and a 2.86 strikeout-to-walk ratio.