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Shohei Ohtani takes step forward toward returning to mound for Angels

Shohei Ohtani lightly tossed 23 pitches in the bullpen Saturday, in a vacant Angel Stadium and three hours before teammate Tyler Skaggs fired the first pitch that actually counted.

That didn’t make Ohtani’s session any less significant, the rookie throwing from a mound for the first time since striking out Kansas City’s Abraham Almonte to end the fourth inning here on June 6.

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The next day, Ohtani was diagnosed with a grade 2 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and he received platelet-rich plasma and stem-cell injections to aid healing and attempt to avoid surgery.

His measured session Saturday marked the next stride down a road the Angels hope ends with Ohtani pitching in a game again before the season is over.

“As we continue to test it moving forward over the next couple weeks,” manager Mike Scioscia said, “we’ll get a better idea of where he is.”

Once he was finished in the bullpen, Ohtani began preparing to start as the designated hitter against Oakland. With Mike Trout out with a wrist injury, Ohtani batted third.

Though his pitching workout was brief and at less than full speed, Ohtani was closely monitored by the assembled media. Pitching coach Charles Nagy deflected questions by explaining that Ohtani basically did nothing more than play a glorified game of catch.

Shohei Ohtani hasn't been able to pitch for the Angels since June 6.
Shohei Ohtani hasn't been able to pitch for the Angels since June 6. (Tony Dejak / Associated Press)

“There haven’t been any adjustments” to Ohtani’s schedule, Scioscia said. “I think he’s been terrific. He’s feeling very, very comfortable with the fact that everything is sound in his elbow.”

The Angels have not been told that Ohtani will need surgery. If that changes over the next few weeks, he’d miss all of 2019 as a pitcher.

Meanwhile he entered Saturday hitting .271 with 12 home runs and 32 RBIs, though just .250 since returning to the lineup July 3.

Given the typical timetable for recovery from elbow ligament replacement surgery, the team has time to try further injections before risking Ohtani missing part of the 2020 season.

“Our main focus is Shohei’s health,” Scioscia said. “That’s best for him and that’s best for us.”

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Short hops

Matt Shoemaker (forearm surgery) threw his most intense bullpen session yet Saturday but still isn’t ready for a rehabilitation assignment. …Reliever Akeel Morris was optioned back to triple-A Salt Lake to make room for Skaggs.

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