Shohei Ohtani says he plans to hit, pitch in relief in WBC final
MIAMI – The dream match between Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout could become a reality on Tuesday night.
Ohtani plans to score against Team USA in the finals of the World Baseball Classic, he said after leading Japan’s rollicking 6-5 semifinal win over Mexico on Monday night, though his time on the mound will come in an unfamiliar role: as a relief pitcher.
The last time Ohtani served from the bullpen was in 2016 when he was 22 and in the postseason with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Ohtani threw a flawless inning and unleashed a pair of fastballs at a speed of 165 kilometers per hour – roughly 102.5 miles per hour, harder than any pitch he has thrown in his five seasons with the Los Angeles Angels.
Ohtani last started five days ago, pitching 71 in Samurai Japan’s quarter-final win over Italy. Never since arriving in Major League Baseball has Ohtani rested four days or less, putting him in position to follow Japan’s starter, left-hander Shota Imanaga, as well as the expected San Diego Padres star Yu Darvish that he throws in the middle innings.
All of this raises the possibility of Ohtani standing 60 feet, 6 inches from friend and teammate Trout, captain of the powerful US team that beat Cuba 14-2 in the semifinals.
“Not just Mike Trout, but one through nine in that order are full of superstars, household names,” Ohtani said. “I’m just excited to face this lineup. It’s a great thing for Japanese baseball.”
The game between Japan and Mexico was a great thing for any fan of the game – tight, tense, crisp, with one heroic moment after another. Ohtani played in the most important moment. Japan, coming back from a 3-0 deficit with a triple home run from Boston Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida, blew the advantage to trail 5-4 at the end of the ninth inning.
Ohtani, leading against St. Louis Cardinals successor Giovanny Gallegos, struck a brace into right midfield. Standing on second base, Ohtani yelled towards the Japan dugouts and raised his arms twice in celebration.
“It’s been a while since I’ve played a win-or-lose game, a game with a playoff vibe,” said Ohtani, who is yet to reach postseason with the Angels. “So obviously we couldn’t lose and I wanted to upset the guys in the dugout.”
Gallegos went with Yoshida, who was lifted for pinch runner Ukyo Shuto, and then faced his third straight elite hitter, Nippon Professional Baseball home run champion Munetaka Murakami. After striking in his first three at-bats, Murakami more than atoned for by smashing a 111-mile drive off the midfield fence, scoring a jubilant ohtani and a slithering shuto to spark a Japanese celebration.
Without the ninth-inning heroics, Ohtani would return to Arizona to finish spring training with the Angels. Instead, he will try to repeat the results of that semi-final game in 2016. That day, in the fifth inning, his pitching coach – Kazuyuki Atsuzawa, currently bullpen coach for Samurai Japan – told Ohtani that if the Fighters held a lead, he would pitch the ninth. Ohtani said he took a racquet, threw a bullpen, picked up another racquet and went into play.
This time he said, “I’ll be prepared. Obviously I’m DHing, so finding the time to get hot in the bullpen will be difficult.”
Ohtani thinks he’ll make it. Being alone in the finals, in meaningful matches, is an experience worth cherishing.
“Obviously getting into the championship series is a big achievement, but there’s a big difference between being first and second,” Ohtani said, “so I’ll do whatever it takes to get that first place.”
https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/35908790/shohei-ohtani-says-plans-hit-pitch-relief-wbc-final Shohei Ohtani says he plans to hit, pitch in relief in WBC final