ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Shohei Ohtani will soon navigate through another shortened offseason, this time because of knee surgery that interrupted the late stages of his throwing progression while recovering from Tommy John surgery. But the Los Angeles Angels are hopeful he won't lag too far behind the other pitchers when spring training opens next season.
"I would imagine he'd be a little behind, but I don't think he'll be terribly behind," Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. "Really, the issue is him being healthy. We're not going to rush it just to meet some timetable."
Ohtani, wearing a balky brace on his left knee and walking with crutches, spoke to reporters on Tuesday for the first time since undergoing a procedure to address discomfort from bipartite patella, a rare condition caused by the two bones of the kneecap not fusing together at birth. Ohtani, speaking 11 days after surgery, said the rehab process is "coming along smoothly" and that he hopes to begin light throwing "really soon."
The Angels will once again use him as a two-way player next season, planning to start him on the mound once a week and place him in the lineup as a designated hitter four times a week.
"I'm very excited, obviously," Ohtani said through his interpreter, "and since I got this surgery quick, I need to take each day preciously, try to get back early as possible and get back to full strength next season."
The surgery came with an estimated recovery time of 10 to 12 weeks and paused Ohtani's throwing program 11 weeks after he returned to the mound. The Angels' hope is that Ohtani can return to throwing off a mound around late November, then conclude his 2019 throwing program the following month and temporarily shut himself down.
Ohtani dismissed concerns about a shortened offseason because he doesn't believe it affected him this year. Asked if he expects to continue to be the effective two-way player he was as a rookie last year, Ohtani said: "I still need to win my spot in spring training, I feel like. Personally, I'm going to be ready to go."
Ohtani, 25, was named the American League Rookie of the Year in 2018 while posting a .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances and a 3.31 ERA in 51⅔ innings. This year, he juggled hitting with his recovery from surgery, putting together a .286/.343/.505 slash line as the Angels' primary DH. Ohtani finished with four fewer home runs (18) despite 58 more at-bats and experienced a stark decline in launch angle (from 12.3 degrees to 6.8).
Ausmus believes Ohtani "had a solid offensive year."
Ohtani didn't necessarily agree.
"I felt like I could've put together a lot better season," Ohtani said. "I feel like I was going through struggles that lasted a little too long. It wasn't what I imagined."