SAN DIEGO -- Shohei Ohtani continues to ramp up the intensity of his bullpen sessions as he progresses deeper into his rehab from his right elbow injury.
Ohtani threw a 33-pitch bullpen session in Anaheim on Wednesday with batters in the box. Manager Mike Scioscia said the batters stood in for "perspective" and did not swing. Ohtani threw 15 pitches and rested for five minutes before throwing his final 18 pitches to simulate a break between innings.
The Angels wanted Ohtani to complete his throwing session at Angel Stadium for data-gathering purposes, though he returned to San Diego in time for Wednesday's game against the Padres.
Ohtani said his third session off the mound was at "close to 100 percent" in terms of effort level. He mixed in all his pitches, including his fastball, splitter, curveball and slider.
"He aired it out," Scioscia said. "His intensity level was great, so we'll continue to hopefully make progress and see where we go."
Ohtani has not pitched for the Angels since June 6 because of a Grade 2 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, but the club is optimistic that he'll be able to return to the mound before the end of the season.
Rivera makes long-awaited return
Rene Rivera's first career stint on the disabled list has finally come to an end, as the Angels activated the 35-year-old veteran catcher on Wednesday and started him behind the plate for their series finale against the Padres at Petco Park.
To clear a roster spot for Rivera, the Angels optioned rookie Jose Briceno to Triple-A Salt Lake. Right-hander Akeel Morris was designated for assignment to create a vacancy on the 40-man roster.
In Wednesday night's 3-2 win over the Padres, Rivera went 2-for-4 with a single and a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning.
Rivera hasn't played for the Angels since May 16, missing 76 games after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Rivera was originally signed to back up Martin Maldonado, but he will likely be eased into a starting role now that Maldonado is with the Astros.
Known for his strong defense, Rivera batted .259 with an .804 OPS, three home runs and 10 RBIs in 22 games for the Angels before hurting his knee.
"When we started the season, obviously, we looked for Rene to carry a certain workload and bring that presence behind the plate," Scioscia said. "He played well before he got hurt. I think that his experience will help him, not only with the game plans, but the adjustments in between innings. He does a really good job with the pitchers. Not that the other guys weren't. I think the other guys were doing a terrific job. I think Rene will be a settling effect for these guys, for sure."
Briceno's demotion leaves rookie Francisco Arcia as the Angels' second catcher. Arcia, 28, spent 12 years toiling in the Minors before receiving his first MLB callup on July 26. He's made the most of his opportunity since then, batting .324 with a .990 OPS, three home runs and 13 RBIs in 12 games with the Angels. A left-handed bat, Arcia is also a better complement to the right-handed-hitting Rivera.
Briceno, 25, batted .291 with a .764 OPS, three home runs and eight RBIs in 30 games with the Angels this season. He will likely return to the Majors once rosters expand on Sept. 1.
"Jose definitely needs to work on a couple things on the offensive and defensive end," Scioscia said. "This will give him a chance to do that. It's tough to continue to work on some things at the Major League level. Frankie's playing at a really high level. He's a left-handed bat, so there's a lot of things on both sides of the ledger."
The Angels optioned newly acquired right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne to Triple-A Salt Lake on Wednesday, but he will likely join the club soon. Scioscia said Despaigne will likely start one of the Angels' games in Texas this week, helping to fill the void left by the injuries to Nick Tropeano and Tyler Skaggs.
The Angels plan to have a bullpen game on Thursday, so Friday seems like the likeliest day for Despaigne to pitch. Left-hander Andrew Heaney and right-hander Jaime Barria are listed as the probable pitchers for Saturday and Sunday.