Shohei Ohtani: WBC title reinforces aim to ‘go to the World Series with the Angels’

Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani throws against the Oakland Athletics.
Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani, shown here throwing during a spring game against the Oakland Athletics on Feb. 28, struck out eight over five innings in a minor league game Friday.
(Matt York / Associated Press)

Shohei Ohtani was back in a game setting, pitching against the Arizona Diamondbacks’ High A club on a practice field at Angels spring training on Friday.

It was a completely different setting from the one he pitched in just days ago, closing for Samurai Japan in the World Baseball Classic final.

His experience after winning it all with his national team culminated in a most valuable player award for the tournament and being named as both a pitcher and batter to the WBC All-Tournament team.


Ohtani started two games for Japan — its pool-play opener in Tokyo against China and quarterfinal against Italy — and closed in the final.

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He finished the tournament giving up just two earned runs, five hits, two batters walked and 11 strikeouts during the 9 2/3 innings he collectively pitched. As a batter, DHing in all seven of Japan’s games, he logged 10 hits, four doubles, one home run, eight RBI and one stolen base.

On Friday, Ohtani was asked whether his experience during the tournament increased his desire to win with the Angels this season.

“I thought that,” he said in Japanese. “I thought the intensity of a protracted battle like the WBC or the playoffs was special.”

But that experience, he explained, didn’t alter how he’s approaching this season.

“It doesn’t change what I do,” he said. “Even if I hadn’t played in the WBC, my intensity toward the season would be the same. To be 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.”

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Ohtani wasn’t sure exactly how the WBC atmosphere compared to playing October baseball or in a World Series.


“It was my first protracted battle in some time. The atmosphere was like, ‘Now, this is baseball,’” he 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 heightened.

“It was equally fun to [October baseball],” he added later. “It also wasn’t that. People who are baseball fans and people who said it wasn’t [equal to the playoffs] got into it. I think that’s No. 1. I was nervous, but I had just as much fun.”

Ohtani, who can become a free agent at the end of this season, was asked whether winning in the WBC affected his outlook on free agency.

“Not especially,” he said. “First, I want to get 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 approach the season in the best condition possible.”

Japan's Shohei Ohtani pitches against the United States in the World Baseball Classic final.
Japan’s Shohei Ohtani pitches against the United States in the World Baseball Classic final on Tuesday.
(Marta Lavandier / Associated Press)

Ohtani’s minor league game start on Friday represented some of his final pitching preparations before starting for the Angels on opening day on Thursday.


He went into Friday focused on readjusting to the pitch clock, using the PitchCom device and fine-tuning his offspeed pitches.

He was asked afterward if it was difficult to adjust from the intensity of playing in the WBC to pitching on the lower fields of the Angels’ Tempe facility.

“Today was a game, but I went into the game prioritizing what I wanted to work on,” he said. “Today, I threw the number of pitches I wanted. I’m ready to go.”

Shohei Ohtani, the tournament MVP, got the save and struck out Mike Trout for the last out as Japan beat the United States 3-2 in the WBC title game.

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Ohtani threw 81 pitches, striking out eight and also gave up a solo home run to Diamondbacks’ prospect Gavin Conticello. Asked whether he thought that home run, coming 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’re just young. But more than the pitches, I wanted to check the PitchCom and pitch clock. So that didn’t bother me very much.”

Ohtani returned to the Angels facility on Thursday, which was an off day for the big league team, though there were still big league players around getting some work in. After being away from the team the past few weeks, he was happy to see all of his Angels teammates again.


“Everyone congratulated me, and that made me happy,” he said. “I saw everyone’s face for the first time in a while and it made me feel again that I wanted to win a championship with this team.”

Staff columnist Dylan Hernández contributed to this report.