Shohei Ohtani nears return to Angels’ lineup, takes swings before game against Guardians

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Shohei Ohtani took swings in the batting cage and did other baseball activities Thursday, nearing a return to the Los Angeles Angels’ lineup after straining his right oblique muscles early in the week.

Ohtani wasn’t in the Angels’ starting lineup for the fourth straight game when they hosted the Cleveland Guardians, but Los Angeles manager Phil Nevin said the two-way superstar might be available to pinch-hit.

“He’s moving around good,” Nevin said. “The swings were close, but not close enough to start tonight. So we may ramp up later, and he’s got a chance to pinch-hit.”

Nevin sounded optimistic about the chances of an imminent return for Ohtani, who has already been shut down for the season as a pitcher. Nevin said Ohtani wanted to be in the lineup Tuesday, just one day after he injured his oblique in batting practice, but the Angels are asking him to slow down.

“I think it’s more (Ohtani is) just a little uncomfortable,” Nevin said. “With those (oblique muscles), it has to be 100% for me, because if you rip that, it’s not a fun time. You don’t want to risk anybody at any time for that.”

Ohtani is still considered the strong frontrunner for his second AL MVP award in three years. His 44 homers are two behind Atlanta’s Matt Olson for the major league lead, while his 95 RBIs are the sixth-most in the majors and his 1.066 OPS is tops in the sport.

The Angels are in freefall without Ohtani and Mike Trout, losing six straight and 13 of 16 to fall out of the AL playoff race. Ohtani wants to return this season as a hitter even after he tore a ligament in his right elbow Aug. 23, ending his season on the mound.

Anthony Rendon took swings off a tee Thursday in his first announced baseball activity since the $245 million third baseman fouled a ball off his leg July 4, causing a deep bone bruise.

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