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Ohtani cleared to take batting practice

Phenom will be re-evaluated to see if he can pitch again this season
MLB.com @mi_guardado

BOSTON -- The injury-riddled Angels finally received some good news on Thursday, as general manager Billy Eppler said Shohei Ohtani has been cleared to begin a formal hitting progression.

Ohtani underwent an MRI on Thursday morning that showed healing in the sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Eppler said Ohtani will resume taking batting practice immediately and could progress to facing live pitching this weekend if all goes well.

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BOSTON -- The injury-riddled Angels finally received some good news on Thursday, as general manager Billy Eppler said Shohei Ohtani has been cleared to begin a formal hitting progression.

Ohtani underwent an MRI on Thursday morning that showed healing in the sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Eppler said Ohtani will resume taking batting practice immediately and could progress to facing live pitching this weekend if all goes well.

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"Personally, I was very pleased," Eppler said during a conference call with reporters. "He has been an important member of our club, both on the mound and in the batter's box. To hear that he's allowed to take the next step to rejoin our club as a hitter, that's news I was hoping to hear, and we did.

"I don't want to speak for [Ohtani], but I know that not being able to play baseball competitively and only being able to train doesn't really satisfy his appetite and doesn't satisfy his hunger to play. He's now one step closer, so I can only assume he's excited about it."

Tweet from @Angels: Hip, hip, Shohei!���... Dr. Yoon has cleared Shohei to begin a formal hitting progression, which he will begin immediately. Shohei will have a follow-up appointment with Dr. Yoon in approximately 3 weeks and we will update his plan of care at that time.��� - Billy Eppler pic.twitter.com/bhGL7MRiDC

Eppler said Ohtani will be re-evaluated in another three weeks to determine whether he'll also be able to return to pitch this season. Ohtani landed on the disabled list with a Grade 2 sprain of the UCL in his right elbow on June 8 and received stem cell and platelet-rich plasma injections in an attempt to heal the damaged ligament.

While Ohtani's latest MRI showed improvement, the 23-year-old two-way phenom could ultimately face Tommy John surgery. Still, Eppler reiterated that the Angels' doctors have not yet recommended that course of action.

"No doctor has told me that Shohei needs surgical intervention at this time," Eppler said.

Video: LAA@TOR: Ohtani doubles twice, reaches 4 times in win

Since Ohtani throws right-handed and bats left-handed, Eppler received assurances from doctors that Ohtani will not put his throwing elbow at further risk by resuming hitting activities. Even after he was shut down from throwing, Ohtani had been preparing for a potential return as a batter by taking one-armed swings in the batting cage and standing in on a bullpen session to see live pitching.

Eppler said Ohtani will not play in Minor League rehab games as he works his way back from injury, as Ohtani doesn't need to play defense and the Angels prefer to have him rehab in a more controlled environment.

"We can control a little bit more of the progression," Eppler said. "When players play in rehabilitation games, they are bound by the rules of the game now. It's not like Minor League Spring Training. You have to wait to hit, you're limited by the number of innings in that game as to how many at-bats you can take. This allows for more freedom, structure and control."

Ohtani was batting .289 with a .907 OPS and six home runs in 34 games prior to the injury. He was just as impactful on the mound, going 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA and 61 strikeouts over 49 1/3 innings.

Video: MLB Tonight on Ohtani being cleared to swing the bat

"We're excited," manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's terrific that he's able to go out there and swing now and start to hopefully get where he needs to be to help us on the offensive side. We look for hopefully better things when he's evaluated again to see when he can start throwing. There's no doubt it's an exciting first step."

Ohtani's potential return as a full-time DH would create one significant wrinkle for the Angels, as Albert Pujols would then be forced to play more first base to keep both of their bats in the lineup. Pujols, 38, has already started 43 games at first this season -- more than his previous two years combined.

"It's going to work," Scioscia said when asked how he envisioned that situation playing out. "We're going to get them into the lineup as much as we can."

Worth noting

Mike Trout (sprained right index finger) started his ninth consecutive game at DH on Thursday, but Scioscia said he could return to center field on Friday in Baltimore.

Garrett Richards (left hamstring strain) and Jefry Marte (left wrist sprain) will begin rehab assignments with Class A Advanced Inland Empire on Friday. Scioscia said Richards is scheduled for a "multi-inning" appearance, leaving open the possibility that he could return to pitch for the Angels in Seattle next week.

Zack Cozart will undergo season-ending surgery with Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Friday morning to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Cozart was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for right-hander Taylor Cole, who was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake on Thursday for his first stint with the Angels.

Cole, 28, was 3-0 with a 4.53 ERA over 47 2/3 innings in 29 appearances for Salt Lake this season. He made his MLB debut with the Blue Jays last August, yielding four runs over one inning against the Yankees.

• The Angels placed Jake Jewell on the 10-day DL with a right fibula fracture on Thursday; he is expected to miss the rest of the season. The team recalled Eduardo Paredes from Salt Lake for the eighth time this season. Infielder Nolan Fontana was also optioned.

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

Los Angeles Angels, Shohei Ohtani