Shohei Ohtani might not be able to pitch right now, but he can still hit.
At least, that’s what the Los Angeles Angels are counting on as they try to get back into the American League’s wild-card race.
The two-way Japanese sensation was activated from the disabled list prior to Tuesday’s series opener against the host Seattle Mariners. Ohtani batted sixth and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts as the Angels lost 4-1.
It was Ohtani’s first game since June 6, when he suffered a Grade 2 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow
“Hopefully it’ll be a good spot (in the order) for him to hit,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia told MLB.com before the game. “But we’re also just trying to get him acclimated. You don’t want to put too much pressure where he’s to say, ‘I’ve got to do so much,’ because he’s hitting higher in the lineup. I think it’s a good spot for him to see some pitches.”
The Angels went 8-14 while Ohtani was out and dropped 11 games behind Seattle in the chase for the AL’s second and final wild-card berth.
Ohtani, who batted .289 with six home runs and 20 RBIs in his first 34 games of the season, was cleared to begin hitting last week. He took batting practice and faced live pitching in simulated games over the weekend.
“He’s not being rushed,” Scioscia said. “He had a very aggressive workout this weekend and was cleared by our medical department. He would not be playing here if he wasn’t cleared by our medical department. We’re very comfortable that he’s ready.”
When Ohtani (4-1, 3.10 ERA) will return to the mound is another question. Angels general manager Billy Eppler said last week that Ohtani would be re-evaluated in three weeks to determine whether he’d be able to pitch again this season.
The Angels didn’t announce right-hander Garrett Richards (4-4, 3.42 ERA) as Wednesday afternoon’s starter until after Tuesday’s defeat. Richards is 6-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 20 career appearances against the Mariners, including 12 starts.
Richards has already faced Seattle twice at Safeco Field this season. He beat the Mariners 5-0 on May 4, allowing four hits in 6 2/3 innings with one walk and eight strikeouts. On June 13, he lasted just two innings in an 8-6 loss, giving up two runs on four hits.
Right-hander Mike Leake (8-4, 4.01 ERA), who has won five of his past six decisions, is scheduled to start for Seattle. He’s 3-1 with a 2.49 ERA in four career starts against the Angels. He suffered the loss in the 5-0 defeat on May 4, allowing three runs on seven hits and four walks in 5 1/3 innings. But he beat Los Angeles 6-3 on June 12, allowing one run on four hits in six innings.
The Mariners have won a season-high eight straight games.
“It’s a real good run we’re on, coming off a sketchy run on the East Coast (losing five of six to the New York Yankees and Boston),” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “The guys bounced back … it’s not always pretty, but we certainly compete very well.”