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Angels eager for Shohei Ohtani to return and bolster their hitting

Angels eager for Shohei Ohtani to return and bolster their hitting
Shohei Ohtani watches Angels pitchers throw during a spring training practice session on Feb. 15 in Tempe, Ariz. Ohtani is moving closer to returning to the Angels. (Chris Carlson / Associated Press)

There’s one thing the Angels can say with certainty regarding Shohei Ohtani’s eventual return to the team: The 2018 American League rookie of the year will change the way the team hits.

The Angels entered Sunday batting a collective .242, the 10th-lowest average in baseball and third-worst in the American League. It’s still a better number than they put up when Ohtani was on the injured list last year; they batted .226 with a .297 on-base percentage in 23 games from June 7 to July 3.

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But that might soon change.

Ohtani will infuse the Angels lineup with energy. He can bat in the middle of the order and provide protection for Mike Trout, who’s batted second in the lineup all season and drawn more walks (30) than anyone else in baseball.

“He’s the rookie of the year,” Kole Calhoun said Sunday. “We all got to see what he’s capable of last year and now he’s got a year of experience under his belt. He’s somebody that can definitely help this ballclub. We’re definitely excited to get a player like Ohtani back.”

General manager Billy Eppler, who traveled with the Angels to Monterrey, Mexico, for a two-game series with the Houston Astros that ended Sunday afternoon, said Ohtani should rejoin the Angels on the road at some point in the next week. Eppler did not commit to a date, but it’s possible for Ohtani to be activated from the injured list Tuesday, in time for the Angels’ first game in Detroit against the Tigers.

Ohtani has already accumulated 50 plate appearances in simulated games, facing left-handed and right-handed pitchers, and hasn’t experienced a setback in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

“He has to get through every step of the progression, so we’re not going to say anything until the progression is finished,” Eppler said. “That’s just the mindful thing to do.”

The Angels are also being mindful of Ohtani’s baserunning. He was equipped a few weeks ago with a protective brace for his right elbow, which is the one that underwent surgery in October. The Angels began teaching Ohtani best practices for sliding and running, such as keeping his arm tucked so that it’s “a little bit out of the way.”

It should not be much longer before Ohtani can test that brace against major league competition.

“He was rookie of the year for what he did on the mound and what he did in the batter’s box,” Eppler said. “So I imagine he’d have a positive impact on the lineup.”

Short hops

Reliever Cody Allen is nearing a return from his lumbar spine strain. He reported no concerning back pain after throwing a bullpen session Sunday. He is eligible to return from the injured list Tuesday in Detroit. … Brad Ausmus will return as a manager to Detroit for the first time since leaving his post there after the 2017 season. He had a 314-332 record in four seasons with the Tigers. The Angels’ hotel, he said, “is about 300 yards from my old townhouse that I had there. It’s a very familiar area. So I’m looking forward to it.”

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