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Ohtani another step closer to returning to pitch

Righty throws off mound for first time since receiving injections for elbow
MLB.com @mi_guardado

ANAHEIM -- Shohei Ohtani took a small but significant step forward in his rehab on Saturday, throwing off the mound for the first time since receiving stem-cell and platelet-rich plasma injections to treat a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on June 7.

Ohtani tossed 23 pitches to a standing catcher during his light bullpen session, mixing in fastballs, sliders and curveballs. Ohtani, who has not pitched for the Angels since June 6, is readjusting to the slope of the mound, but he is expected to gradually ramp up the intensity of his workouts and could potentially return to pitch in September, barring any setbacks.

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ANAHEIM -- Shohei Ohtani took a small but significant step forward in his rehab on Saturday, throwing off the mound for the first time since receiving stem-cell and platelet-rich plasma injections to treat a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on June 7.

Ohtani tossed 23 pitches to a standing catcher during his light bullpen session, mixing in fastballs, sliders and curveballs. Ohtani, who has not pitched for the Angels since June 6, is readjusting to the slope of the mound, but he is expected to gradually ramp up the intensity of his workouts and could potentially return to pitch in September, barring any setbacks.

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"I feel pretty confident in coming back," Ohtani said. "Today was a big first step. Everything went well, so I'm just going to keep taking the next steps to get back."

Manager Mike Scioscia said Ohtani's recovery has gone about as well as the Angels could have hoped for so far.

"He's been terrific," Scioscia said. "I think that he's feeling very, very comfortable with the fact that everything is sound in his elbow. As we continue to test it moving forward in the next couple weeks, we'll get a better idea of exactly where he is."

Ohtani logged a 3.10 ERA with 61 strikeouts over 49 1/3 innings in nine outings for the Angels before the elbow injury derailed his two-way experiment. The 24-year-old rookie spent a month on the disabled list before returning exclusively as a hitter on July 3. Though it's been more than two months since his last pitching appearance, Ohtani has developed into an impact bat for the Angels, hitting .273 with an .887 OPS, 12 home runs and five stolen bases in 62 games as a left-handed slugger.

With only 44 games left to play, the Angels could decide to model Ohtani's return to the mound after the one they followed with right-hander Garrett Richards last season. After missing five months with a nerve issue in his right biceps, Richards rejoined the Angels' rotation in September and made five starts, even though he wasn't fully stretched out.

The Angels could afford short outings from Richards because of the expanded rosters in September, which allowed him to gradually build up his arm while still pitching in the Majors over the final month of the season.

Still, Scioscia reiterated that the pace of Ohtani's rehab will ultimately be determined by the Angels' medical staff.

"It's something you can't force," Scioscia said. "It's not worth trying to get peace of mind and putting yourself at risk. All of these injuries will heal on their own time. We will take it one step at a time. I do think that it is important for a pitcher, coming out of this season, to know they're healthy. It gives them, I think, a leg up in the winter, and then going into Spring Training, they're ready to go."

Worth noting

• Left-hander Tyler Skaggs (left adductor strain) was activated off the 10-day disabled list on Saturday and started against the A's. To clear a spot for Skaggs on the roster, the Angels optioned right-hander Akeel Morris to Triple-A Salt Lake.

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Angels, Shohei Ohtani