Manager Brad Ausmus didn’t want to say he was getting “the band back together,” but he did concede this: The Angels are close to seeing all their hitters healthy again, and that’s a welcome change.
“We’ve had some guys step up a little bit in the interim,” Ausmus said. “Brian Goodwin has done a nice job. We had [Cesar] Puello have come up and he’s done a nice job. There’s been contributors that have helped. But it’d be nice to get the regular nine or eight back together.”
It initially seemed that fielding the Angels’ optimal starting lineup — one that features Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton and Shohei Ohtani together for the first time since the end of last season — would take longer than hoped when Simmons suffered a grade 3 sprain of his left ankle on May 20. Now it seems Simmons could be activated from the injured list by the end of June, a return that could closely coincide with Upton’s full recovery from turf toe.
Simmons, who has ncreased his infield drills and taken batting practice this week, will face pitchers for the first time since the injury in a few days. He could go on a rehab assignment after that, but it would likely be brief. Upton could join the Angels on this three-city trip that began Thursday, maybe as soon as next week in Toronto.
Although it is possible veteran infielder Zack Cozart is still on the injured list at the end of June, the Angels could finally have the batting order they thought they would have at this year’s All-Star break before Upton ran into a wall at Angel Stadium and sprained his left big toe in late March.
Despite losing Simmons and his .298 average so soon after Ohtani’s return, the Angels have stayed hot. They s entered Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays ranked third in average (.275) and fifth in on-base-plus-slugging-percentage (.812) since Ohtani rejoined the lineup May 7. Puello, promoted from triple-A Salt Lake when Cozart was placed on the injured list May 27, has helped those efforts with a .441 average and 1.136 OPS through his first nine games.
But Upton and Simmons’ bats should further spark a team struggling to get to .500.
“I don’t want to say back together because they haven’t really been together,” Ausmus said. “But it’d be nice to get them together.”
Pitchers’ rehab progress a mixed bag
Right-hander Matt Harvey remains sidelined with an upper back strain, but other recovering Angels pitchers are moving in right direction.
J.C. Ramirez increased his pitch count to 84 in his last rehab start Thursday, going 4 2/3 innings at triple-A Salt Lake. He’s not experienced any setbacks since undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2018, but the Angels aren’t ready to declare when he’ll return to the active roster.
“I think he’s got a little more time left,” Ausmus said.
Ramirez started his rehab assignment May 30. MLB rules dictate that pitchers can remain on such an assignment for 30 consecutive days. Since they’ll face a roster crunch upon his activation, the Angels could benefit from maxing out his time. They should have a better idea of what the pitching staff to look like going forward by the end of June
“That obviously comes into play, how our current crop of starters are performing,” Ausmus said. “And the health of certain guys. We’re preparing him as a starter, because you can work backward, but we don’t have to make that decision right now. As you know, things can change.”
Two-way player Ohtani could start throwing off a mound before the All-Star break if everything goes to plan, Ausmus said. Ohtani will only serve as a designated hitter this season, but he is expected to ramp up his throwing rehab in the coming months.
Keynan Middleton, also recovering from elbow ligament surgery, hasn’t progressed as seamlessly as Ramirez. The reliever, who underwent the same procedure 13 months ago, experienced a setback in early May but was cleared to resume throwing within a week. He moved on to throwing bullpen sessions and has stagnated. He is not facing hitters yet, Ausmus said.
Meanwhile, right-hander Trevor Cahill remains on the injured list recovering from elbow soreness that cropped up nine days ago. The Angels hoped he’d be available to pitch this weekend against the Rays, but he didn’t throw for four days before Thursday afternoon.