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MLB: Ohtani delighted, surprised in mound return

Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels pitches during a game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston, on Sept. 2, 2018. (Kyodo)

HOUSTON (Kyodo) -- Despite not lasting even three innings on Sunday, Shohei Ohtani was both delighted and surprised by his first pitching assignment in nearly three months.

"I was more nervous than I thought I would be," said Ohtani, who has been used exclusively by the Los Angeles Angels as a hitter since he strained ligaments in his right elbow on June 6.

"That goes for my degree of readiness, too. I was not at any kind of a high level."

Since he suffered a Grade 2 strain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow, Ohtani had undergone stem-cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma injections.

Ohtani was long criticized in Japan for his desire to both pitch and hit since the Nippon Ham Fighters offered him that option in order to keep him from signing with a major league club out of high school. He shared the Angels' opinion about a return to the mound this year: If he was cleared to pitch, he wanted to take the mound.

"If I am at all able to throw, I want to pitch," he said after taking the loss in the Angels' 4-2 defeat to the Houston Astros. "My stance on that has never changed. If I was able to pitch this season, then that was something I had to do."

Ohtani, who was ostensibly on a 50-pitch limit, was eventually yanked when his velocity dropped in the third inning. The drop was attributed to lower back stiffness and a slight injury to his right ring finger when he reached for a chopper back to the mound in his 1-2-3 second inning.

"I somehow felt I could catch it, so I stuck my hand out," Ohtani said of the ball headed up the middle that he deflected to one of his infielders. "Of course, it would have been better not to have done that, but it is important to strive to get every single out."

"I did feel discomfort in the finger right after that."

Ohtani said his lower back was tight because he was throwing harder than he had prepared for.

"I didn't expect to throw that hard," he said. "But you know what? When all those people come to a game at this level, you just get amped up and that's that."

"Compared to practice, I was throwing a lot harder, putting my body in to it and that is a big thing. We'll see how things look tomorrow."

Ohtani is expected to make his next start on Sept. 9. As a pitcher, he is 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 10 games. As a hitter, the 24-year-old has a .276 batting average, with 15 home runs, 40 runs and 43 runs batted in 239 at-bats.

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