BP session has Ohtani eager to rejoin Angels

April 20th, 2019

ANAHEIM -- took another step in his recovery from Tommy John surgery on Friday before the Angels' matchup with the Mariners, as he hit on the field with his teammates for the first time since undergoing the operation on Oct. 1.

Ohtani, in a group with Kevan Smith and Brian Goodwin, hit several tape-measure shots but also popped up a few balls into the top of the cage during his six rounds of batting practice. He took 33 swings with nine going for homers, as he mostly focused on hitting the ball the other way.

"It's a lot more fun than hitting by myself,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “Hitting-wise, everything is going well. I was also able to play catch and stretch out to 90 feet now. Everything is going well so far. I am having fun right now, being able to swing as hard as I can. I wasn’t able to before. I am excited to be back.”

Ohtani, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, has been hitting on the field since March 26 and had been facing fastballs and curveballs from a pitching machine since April 12, but Friday's session was his first time in a regular hitting group with his teammates before a game.

“For me, it’s just another step,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “He’s been swinging the bats for a while. So, for me, this isn’t a huge step. He’s hit on the field before. He hit here last homestand early by himself usually. He’s certainly getting closer, but it’s just another step.”

Ohtani, who will not pitch in 2019, remains on track to return as a designated hitter in early May and is scheduled to face live pitching for the first time early next week. Ausmus was asked whether Ohtani could be ready before the club plays in the Mexico Series against the Astros in Monterrey on May 4 but said it’s too early to say.

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“Would I like to take him to Mexico?” Ausmus said. “If he’s ready, I’ll take him to Mexico.”

Ohtani said he’d like to return even earlier than that but it’ll be up the medical staff. There’s still no official date for his first day of live batting practice. He’s expected to need at least a week of facing pitchers before he returns, but he’s not going to go on a rehab assignment.

“Of course, I would love to go there,” Ohtani said of the Angels' trip to Mexico. “Obviously I am going to aim to be back there, but sooner would be nice.”

Ohtani, 24, hit .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers, 21 doubles and 61 RBIs in 104 games as a DH last year, while also posting a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts. He's one of two major bats the Angels are missing in their lineup, as Justin Upton is also out for the first two to three months of the season with left turf toe.

“I’d like to get them all back,” Ausmus said. “I’d like to get Upton back, too. [Ohtani] is a talented offensive player. He’s a dynamic player. He can run the bases. And he has a lot of power. It’ll be nice to get him back, but I’d like them all back.”

Ohtani also had a reunion with Mariners rookie left-hander Yusei Kikuchi on the field before Thursday's series opener, as the pair attended the same high school in Japan, though not at the same time. Kikuchi, 27, graduated from Hanamaki Higashi High School the year before Ohtani arrived.

"I didn't have a chance to see during the offseason, so this is the first time I’ve seen him in the season," Ohtani said. "It's good to catch up. Obviously, he went to the same high school and we had a good conversation. Personally, I am excited to [eventually] face him, but more than that I am focused on the victory of our team."

Jewell optioned, Cole recalled

A day after allowing four runs in 1 1/3 innings against the Mariners, right-hander was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake. Fellow right-handed reliever was called up to take his place on the roster. Cole started the year on the injured list with a strained right shoulder and posted a 7.94 ERA with five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings at Salt Lake.