He had appeared in two simulated games, in an empty ballpark, against pitchers whose names remain unknown.
That Shohei Ohtani went hitless in four at-bats in his return to the Angels on Tuesday was no more surprising than the fact he struck out three times while doing so.
“It’s a different atmosphere up here, facing big league pitchers in a big league stadium,” Ohtani said through an interpreter after he and the Angels lost to Seattle 4-1. “I still need a little more time.”
The rookie was activated following five days of batting practice, a rehabilitation process that included those two simulated games in Anaheim over the weekend.
Rather than use a more traditional assignment in the minor leagues, the Angels opted to have Ohtani work out in private and then resume playing in games with them.
“Shohei just needs to see some pitches,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s going to be fine. His bat speed is there.”
Ohtani had been out since June 6, when he left a pitching start against Kansas City after four innings.
The next day, he was diagnosed with a grade 2 sprain of his right ulnar collateral ligament and treated with injections of platelet-rich plasma and stem cells.
In his first public comments since being hurt, Ohtani called the severity of the injury “surprising.”
“But the team took every [necessary] step,” he said. “They checked out my elbow and that’s what the doctor said so I have to listen to them. I just have to work hard and try to get back to where I was before the injury.”
A follow-up exam last week showed healing, Dr. Steve Yoon clearing Ohtani to resume hitting.
He is scheduled to be re-evaluated again during the third week of July, at which time the Angels hope to have a better understanding of his future availability as a pitcher.
He hadn’t batted in a game since June 4, when he singled as a pinch-hitter against the Royals. In his return Tuesday, he batted sixth, one spot below where he has hit for the majority of his starts this season.
“Just trying to get him acclimated,” Scioscia said. “You don’t want to put too much pressure where he’s saying ‘I’ve got to do so much’ if he’s hitting higher in the lineup.”
Ohtani struck out twice and fouled out against Mariners starter Wade LeBlanc and struck out against closer Edwin Diaz, whose fastball hit 99 mph Tuesday.
LeBlanc, a former Angel with a fastball that barely reaches the upper 80s, gave up a solo homer to Andrelton Simmons and little else through seven innings.
The Angels’ only real uprising came after LeBlanc departed. With one out in the eighth, Kole Calhoun doubled and advanced to third on a fly out. The Mariners then opted to intentionally walk Mike Trout, choosing to put the potential tying run on base and face Justin Upton, who flied out to center.
Coupled with a first-inning strikeout with David Fletcher on second, Upton, the Angels’ No. 3 hitter, is now 13 for 81 (.160) with runners in scoring position. No player in baseball with at least 57 at-bats in such situations is worse.
While regaining Ohtani, the Angels lost Chris Young, who started in right field but left after five batters because of a hamstring injury that appeared to be significant.