ANAHEIM -- Nobody got a closer view of Shohei Ohtani coming up in Japan’s Nippon Professional League than Hideki Kuriyama, who was Ohtani's manager during his five seasons with the Nippon Fighters from 2013-17.
Kuriyama, who is also the manager of Japan’s national baseball team, visited Angel Stadium on Friday and said he planned to meet with Ohtani about his plans to play in the 2023 World Baseball Classic for Team Japan. Kuriyama said Ohtani still hasn’t officially decided whether he’ll play in the event, but he’s enjoyed seeing Ohtani achieve success in the Majors.
"I had him for five years as his manager -- and for me, it's a more of a relief to see him succeed in the way he has,” Kuriyama said through interpreter Grace McNamee. “It's more of a relief than feeling happy or satisfied. I think I'll be happy when he's done with baseball and [can] see all the things he's accomplished."
Kuriyama said he dealt with a lot of pressure managing Ohtani because of the high expectations he set as a two-way player. Ohtani, though, exceeded those expectations, as he was a five-time NPB All-Star and helped the Fighters win the 2016 Japan Series. And that’s why Kuriyama hasn’t been shocked by Ohtani’s success in the Majors, including winning the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year Award, the 2021 AL MVP Award and being named an All-Star as both a pitcher and a designated hitter in ’21 and ’22.
"I'm not surprised,” Kuriyama said. “He basically cleared everything that I asked him to do in Japan. If I put up a ceiling, he always reached that ceiling. And I'm sure he'll continue to accomplish things that are further than that."
Ohtani is coming off an impressive week, as he joined some exclusive company with his incredible performance against the A’s on Tuesday.
He threw six scoreless innings to pick up his 10th win of the year, which helped him make history, as he became just the second player in AL or NL history to record 10 wins on the mound and hit 10 homers at the plate. He fittingly joined Hall of Famer Babe Ruth, who accomplished the feat in 1918.
Ohtani also launched a solo homer, which moved him past Ichiro Suzuki for the second-most homers hit by a Japanese-born player with 118. Hideki Matsui holds the record among Japanese-born players with 175 homers in the Majors.
"You try not to take for granted what we're seeing every night, but it's pretty awesome to be a part of," said interim manager Phil Nevin. "He's a great teammate in here; these things don't go by us lightly. … Certainly, [it's] a really cool thing to be a part of."
Getting to 10 victories was a major milestone for Ohtani, as wins are still highly regarded among Japanese baseball fans. Ohtani was 9-2 last year, just missing out on getting to 10 wins. He's also already set a career-high with 157 strikeouts in 111 innings, after striking out 156 in 130 1/3 innings last season. He's now surpassed 1,000 career strikeouts combined in Japan (624) and in the Majors (379).
Ohtani, though, is still taking it all in stride and is just looking to finish the season strong and healthy.
"I'm just focused on being able to play as many games as possible," Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "[I'm] taking one game at a time and just trying to stay healthy."
But Ohtani did say he was honored to pass Ichiro, as he idolized Ichiro while growing up in Japan and has had the opportunity to meet him several times before Angels-Mariners games over the last few years.
"Obviously, we're very different types of hitters," Ohtani said, "but if I get to pass Ichiro on any list, I'm really honored and privileged."