Shohei Ohtani is expected to be in the starting lineup and batting second Sunday afternoon for the Los Angeles Angels against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., the designated hitter feeling especially good at the plate these days thanks to feeling especially good physically.
Since joining the Angels in 2018, Ohtani's appearances as a pitcher have been limited because of an elbow injury that required surgery after the 2018 season. And he's already missed one scheduled start this season because of a blister on his finger.
The elbow injury, however, didn't affect Ohtani at the plate as much as a knee injury that resulted in surgery after the 2019 season. Ohtani hit one home run every 5.2 games in 2018, and one homer every 5.9 games in 2019.
But after the knee surgery in 2019, Ohtani hit one homer every 6.6 games in 2020. He also had career lows in batting average (.190) and OPS (.657).
"After going through the whole season last year, I felt like my knee was the biggest issue coming off the surgery, so I was pretty limited to what I could do," Ohtani said through an interpreter, adding that a healthy lower half helps him to be able to drive the ball better.
With three homers so far this season, Ohtani is tied for the team lead with Mike Trout and Jared Walsh, and he's batting .294 with a 1.039 OPS.
Angels starting right fielder Dexter Fowler, however, suffered a sprained left knee in Friday's game sliding into second base. He was placed on the injured list and will be eligible to return to the active roster on April 20. Juan Lagares is expected to get most of the starts in right field in Fowler's place.
The Blue Jays also have issues in the outfield. George Springer has been on the injured list all season and is yet to make his Blue Jays debut, and Teoscar Hernandez recently was placed on the COVID-19 injured list.
That resulted in the promotion of outfielder Josh Palacios, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in his major league debut on Friday. But he was in the starting lineup Saturday as well and had a bunt single in the second inning for his first major league hit. He added an RBI single in the fourth, a single in the sixth and a single in the eighth, his fourth hit of the game.
Palacios admitted he had to fight off feelings of awe before Friday's game, considering who was in the opposing dugout -- Fowler was one of Palacios' favorite players growing up.
"I was a little nervous, I can't lie," Palacios said. "(Fowler) was on the other team, I didn't want to be the guy, like, 'Hey, what's up Fowler? What's up (Mike)Trout?' It was kind of business once I got onto the field."
Even though it was his first day in the big leagues, Palacios was familiar with Dunedin's TD Ballpark, having played there in spring training and minor league games.
"It felt like home," Palacios said. "I've been here for a whole season before, played many spring training games here, so it felt a lot more comfortable. I already knew the field, the atmosphere, how everything plays."
Palacios, who did not play at all in 2020 because there was no minor league season, hit .266 with seven homers, 38 RBI and a .787 OPS in 82 games for Double-A New Hampshire in 2019.
Right-hander Alex Cobb (0-0, 4.50 ERA), who got a no-decision in his first start of the season, will be on the mound for Los Angeles. He is 3-7 with a 5.10 ERA in 13 career starts against Toronto.
Tanner Roark, who allowed five runs in just three innings last week in his season debut - a 7-4 loss to Texas - will start for Toronto. He is 1-1 with a 1.40 ERA in four starts against the Angels.
--Field Level Media