Ohtani off DL, goes hitless as DH in return
SEATTLE -- Shohei Ohtani is back.
The Angels activated Ohtani off the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday ahead of their 4-1 loss to the Mariners at Safeco Field. Ohtani started at designated hitter and batted sixth against Seattle left-hander Wade LeBlanc in his first game since June 6, though he showed some rust in his return, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
"Shohei just needs to see some pitches," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's going to be fine. His bat speed is there. He looked great in batting practice."
Ohtani landed on the disabled list on June 8 with a Grade 2 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, but he'll return exclusively as a hitter for now, giving the Angels a top left-handed bat to help boost their lineup during a key series against the Mariners.
The Angels, who went 8-14 while Ohtani was sidelined, entered Tuesday 11 games behind the Mariners for the second Wild Card spot in the American League, but they're scheduled to face their division rivals nine times this month, giving them a chance to gain some ground in the race ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Prior to the injury, Ohtani was batting .289 with a .907 OPS and six home runs in 129 plate appearances. The Angels have averaged five runs per game with Ohtani's bat in their lineup this season and 4.2 runs per game without him, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Ohtani was cleared to begin a formal hitting progression on Thursday after an MRI showed healing in his damaged elbow ligament. He took batting practice for two days and then faced live pitching in two simulated games over the weekend in preparation for his return to the Angels' lineup.
"I think it was huge that I got all those at-bats in a simulated game," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "That really helped a lot, but it's a different game up here in the big leagues. I think it's still not quite there yet, but I'll just keep on working hard and come back tomorrow."
General manager Billy Eppler said last week that Ohtani, who received platelet-rich plasma and stem-cell injections to treat his ailing elbow on June 7, would be re-evaluated in another three weeks to determine whether he will also be able to return as a pitcher this year. The 23-year-old right-hander logged a 3.10 ERA with 61 strikeouts over 49 1/3 innings in nine outings this season.
"I'm just going to focus on hitting until I'm cleared to throw again," Ohtani said. "I just want to try my best and help the team win every single day. That's all I can do right now."
Ohtani's return as a full-time DH does create a bit of conundrum for the Angels, however. With Ohtani limited to hitting, the Angels will now be forced to play Jose Pujols at first base more often if they want to keep both of their bats in the lineup. Pujols, 38, has started 44 games at first this season -- more than his previous two years combined -- and it remains to be seen how his lower body will handle the heavier workload as the season unfolds.
"We'll balance it," Scioscia said without elaborating.
The Angels also recalled right-hander Miguel Almonte from Triple-A Salt Lake and optioned right-handers William McGuire and Eduardo Paredes on Tuesday. Almonte, 25, is 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA and four strikeouts in six appearances for Salt Lake this season. He was acquired from the Royals in exchange for cash considerations in April.