Shohei Ohtani was back on a game stage, pitching against the Arizona Diamondbacks’ High A club on a practice field at the Angels’ spring training on Friday.
It was a completely different scenario than the one he pitched a few days ago, closing out for Samurai Japan in the World Baseball Classic final.
His post-winning experience with his national team culminated in a tournament MVP award and being named to the WBC All-Tournament team as a pitcher and hitter.
Ohtani started two games for Japan, their first group match in Tokyo against China and a quarterfinal against Italy, closing out in the final.
He finished the tournament allowing just two earned runs, five hits, two walks and 11 strikeouts over the 9 2/3 innings he pitched collectively. As a designated hitter in all seven of Japan’s games, he recorded 10 hits, four doubles, one home run, eight RBIs and one stolen base.
Ohtani was asked Friday if his experience during the tournament increased his desire to win with the Angels this season.
“I thought so,” he said in Japanese. “I thought the intensity of a long battle like the WBC or the playoffs was special.”
But that experience, he explained, hasn’t altered the way he approaches this season.
“That doesn’t change what I do,” he said. “Even if I hadn’t played in the WBC, my intensity towards the season would be the same. Being able to experience that kind of atmosphere before the season is special, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the fact that I want to do my best.”
Ohtani wasn’t sure how exactly the WBC atmosphere compared to playing baseball in October or a World Series.
“It was my first prolonged battle in a long time. The atmosphere was like, ‘Now this is baseball,’” she said. “Honestly, I haven’t been to the World Series so I can’t even imagine. But my hunger to play in a short competition increased.
“It was just as fun (October baseball),” he added later. “It wasn’t that either. People who are fans of baseball and people who said they weren’t (same as playoffs) got in. I think that’s number 1. I was nervous, but I had a lot of fun.
Ohtani, who may become a free agent at the end of this season, was asked if winning in the WBC affected his free agency prospects.
“Not especially,” he said. “First, I want to go to the World Series with the Angels and win. That reinforced those thoughts. That’s all I’m thinking about. We have another week. I want to recover and face the season in the best possible conditions”.
Ohtani’s minor league game opener on Friday represented some of his last pitching preparations before kicking off for the Angels on opening day Thursday.
He entered Friday focused on resetting the shot clock, using the PitchCom device and fine-tuning his off-speed pitches.
He was then asked if it was difficult to adjust from the intensity of playing in the WBC to pitching in the lower fields of the Angels’ Tempe facility.
“Today was a game, but I went into the game by prioritizing what I wanted to work on,” he said. “Today I threw as many pitches as I wanted. I’m ready to go.”
Ohtani threw 81 pitches, struck out eight and also allowed a solo homer to Diamondbacks prospect Gavin Conticello. When asked if he thought that home run, days after he struck out Mike Trout on the international stage, made baseball a strange game, he laughed.
“There are players with good swings,” he said. “They are just young. But more than the pitches, I wanted to check out the PitchCom and the shot clock. So that didn’t bother me much.”
Ohtani returned to the Angels facility on Thursday, which was a day off for the Major League Baseball team, even though Major Leaguers were still working. After being away from the team for the past few weeks, he was happy to see everyone. from his fellow Angels again.
“Everyone congratulated me and that made me happy,” he said. “I saw everyone’s face for the first time in a long time and it made me feel again that I wanted to win a championship with this team.”
Staff columnist Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report.