Shohei Ohtani caused a momentary stir of curiosity when he stepped away from batting practice to duck back into the Angels clubhouse.
The mass of media assembled watched intently to see what was going on. Ohtani reemerged, apparently after he changed one of his gloves to resume hitting.
Such is the scrutiny of Ohtani Watch as the window for his pitching return gets smaller. The Japanese star threw a simulated game Monday, then hit a home run in a 10-7 win against the Colorado Rockies that ended the Angels’ six-game losing streak.
Ohtani whacked a three-run homer in the fourth inning. Mike Trout hit his first home run since he returned from the disabled list and a subsequent personal leave and the Angels squandered a 5-3 lead in the eighth inning before Eric Young Jr.’s full-count two-run single scored the winning runs.
Manager Mike Scioscia said Ohtani was “adamant” about hitting, and Ohtani backed up his words.
“Over the last month or so, since I starting slowly hitting, I’ve learned a lot,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “I’ve been getting a lot of good experience.”
Ohtani said his throwing arm felt “pretty much the same” and “nothing went wrong.” There was no definitive outline for when he might pitch again in the major leagues.
But the thinking is that if Ohtani progresses from a right elbow sprain, he could throw in a game sometime during the Angels’ 10-game trip that begins Thursday. Ohtani was asked about the process of his recovery that has played out since he first suffered the injury in June.
“I felt like they were being very careful with me,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “There’s absolutely zero rush, and I think they’re doing a really good job so I can make a comeback in September.
“I was always confident that I’ll be able to pitch sometime during the season. Every step I’m getting closer and closer, so I feel more confident.”
Scioscia fielded numerous questions about Ohtani’s progress and only indicated that Monday was a step forward and they’ll continue to evaluate him in the next few days, which will include another bullpen session.
Ohtani threw 50 pitches in a three-inning simulation game, against minor league hitters, and Scioscia said he maintained his stuff all the way through the workout and his velocity “was really good” although he didn’t specify the velocity.
Scioscia referenced getting Ohtani sound, not only for the near future but for 2019 as well. With his home run, Ohtani joined Babe Ruth in 1919 and Jimmy Ryan in 1888 as the only players with 15 home runs and four pitching wins in a season.
It puts the onus on getting the phenom healthy.
“We’ll see what it leads to when it builds to this last month,” Scioscia said.
Ohtani sounded eager to build on his 4-1 pitching record.
“Personally, I feel like I don’t need any more simulated games,” Ohtani said.
“But it’s not up to me, ultimately. It’s going to be up to the coaching staff and the training staff. I’ll talk to them first.”
Lead lost, regained
The Angels unraveled in the eighth when relievers Justin Anderson and Williams Jerez loaded the bases on walks. DJ LeMahieu hit his first career grand slam, off Jim Johnson, that turned a 5-3 Angels lead into a 7-5 deficit.
Ohtani initially set them up for victory on a blast to center field that gave the Angels their first lead, at 4-2, in 51 innings. The streak lasted eight days and three different uniforms for the Angels, who wore 1988 throwback outfits.
Trout backed up Ohtani in the sixth inning with his 31st home run, his first home run since July 31 because of the time off. He walked to lead off the eighth and Ohtani followed with a check-swing single off the end of his bat as the Angels loaded the bases to eventually set up Young Jr.
“We kept going,” Scioscia said. “Eric Young. What a battle there.”
Ramirez to start
Noe Ramirez, who recorded his first career save, will start Tuesday, Scioscia said. It will be his first career start, less than 24 hours after his 19-pitch save.