ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shohei Ohtani emerged from the Los Angeles Angels clubhouse on Friday night and stood by a concrete wall to face a horde of English- and Japanese-speaking members of the media. He had an ice pack wrapped tightly around his elbow and his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, was busy at his side. It was similar to the aftermath of each of his home launches over the past three years, even if the circumstances – looming trade deadline, free reign, rumors of a possible switch, more violent than ever – were vastly different.
Ohtani, the Angels’ transcendent two-way star, claimed he barely noticed.
“It didn’t cross my mind at all,” Ohtani said of Mizuhara when asked if he thought about this being his last home start in an Angels jersey. “Of course I belong to the Angels at this moment. I feel like we’re in a good position to get into the playoffs, so I’m just trying not to think about it too much.”
Ohtani was marked as a pitcher for four homers for 6⅓ innings, but he also hit base four times as a batter and helped the Angels to an 8-5 win over the modest Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Angels, currently without Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, started the week after a 13-game streak that included 11 losses. This sparked a precipitous fall in the standings and heavy speculation that Ohtani could be substituted ahead of the final stretch of his final season before free agency. But the Angels have since racked up four straight wins, including a win over the New York Yankees, putting them four games behind the last playoff spot in the American League and 11 days before the Aug. 1 deadline.
Angels owner Arte Moreno has previously stated that he would not ditch Ohtani if his team remains in contention, but flirting with the team’s fringes has led to the kind of suspicion that the organization hasn’t bothered to fend him off.
Asked if he had received assurances from Moreno or Angels general manager Perry Minasian or anyone else that he would not be substituted, Ohtani said: “I’ve never had conversations like this. I see Perry in the clubhouse maybe once a week and we’ve never really had a conversation.”
The same goes, Ohtani added, when asked if he’s expressed any thoughts about staying with the Angels beyond the 2023 season.
“I’ve never had a conversation like this while sitting down,” he said. “We’re obviously mid-season and I’m just trying to focus on the season and kind of block out everything else. Like I said, I feel like we’re in a good position to get into the playoffs and that’s all I’m really focused on right now.”
Ohtani had been hampered by a broken fingernail and a blister in his right middle finger in his last four starts, but he and Angels manager Phil Nevin said on Friday it wasn’t a problem. Ohtani recorded five strikeouts in the first three innings, but hit back-to-back home runs against Ji-Man Choi and Henry Davis in the fourth inning, then a two-run shot against Jack Suwinski in the fifth, and another solo home run against Davis in the sixth. On offense, Ohtani hit three walks, hit a strikeout after a strikeout on a wild pitch, and scored a double from first base, efforts that Nevin believes may have led to the runs he gave up as a pitcher.
Sixteen weeks into the 2023 season, Ohtani boasts a 1.076 OPS in 432 plate appearances and a 3.71 ERA in 111⅔ innings. As a hitter, he ties with Ronald Acuna Jr. in the major leagues with 5.0 FanGraphs wins over substitutes. But he did accumulate 1.6 extra fWAR as a pitcher.
When he batted in the fifth inning, 40,309 fans at Angel Stadium showered him with “MVP” chants.
“Obviously I’m very happy to hear that,” said Ohtani. “But at the same time, I feel like I could have performed better and given them a better show.”