Ohtani gets OD start, ready to 'focus on the season'

February 16th, 2023

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Two-way superstar unsurprisingly was named the Angels’ Opening Day starter on Thursday, but questions about his contract dominated Ohtani’s first media session of Spring Training.

Ohtani, who is set to be a free agent after the season after signing a one-year deal worth $30 million on Oct. 1 to avoid arbitration, was asked if he’d be open to an extension with the Angels. But Ohtani, who is represented by agent Nez Balelo, didn’t reveal much about any negotiations or his future with the club.

“I’m not entirely sure what Nez and the team have been talking about, but as far as myself, I haven’t really heard anything about an extension,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I’m just trying to focus on the season. This is my last year and I’m aware of that. As of now I’m an Angel, and that’s all I want to focus on. I haven’t really thought too far ahead.”

Ohtani, though, said he does believe the Halos are as committed to winning as he is despite the fact the club hasn’t made the postseason since 2014 and hasn’t finished with a winning record since Ohtani joined the team in '18.

“I do firmly believe the Angels are on the same page as me,” Ohtani said. “They want to win as much as I do. I can’t tell you what they are really thinking, but I like to believe that.”

Ohtani, the AL MVP in 2021 and a two-time All-Star, has stated in the past that winning is the most important thing to him. The Angels have been aggressive trying to improve the roster heading into next season, adding key veterans such as lefty Tyler Anderson, reliever Carlos Estévez, infielders Gio Urshela and Brandon Drury and outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Brett Phillips. They also agreed to terms with lefty reliever Matt Moore on one-year deal on Thursday.

“I think we got a great group of new guys, probably the best acquisitions of the last few years,” Ohtani said. “I got to meet a couple of the guys today, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them.”

Ohtani said he also had a chance to talk to owner Arte Moreno on Wednesday, but they didn't discuss his decision not to sell the club. Ohtani wouldn’t say if Moreno keeping the club will have any bearing on his future.

“I had the chance to say hi to him yesterday at the field,” Ohtani said. “No deep conversation. Just saying hi and seeing how we were doing. As far as a reaction to his decision, I don't really have much of a reaction. It’s business as usual. Nothing's really changed. I just want to focus on the season coming up.”

Ohtani said another major focus this offseason was to get ready for the World Baseball Classic, but that he didn’t really change his routine. The Angels have already plotted out his potential starts with Team Japan. He’s currently scheduled to throw a live bullpen session on Feb. 25. He will make a Cactus League start on March 1, before departing for Tokyo to join Team Japan.

Manager Phil Nevin said the Angels aren’t worried about Ohtani being ready for Opening Day, because they know he’ll be ready to take the mound against the A’s on March 30.

“Right now, we know he’s going to pitch the first game, and the way it works out with the WBC, we’ve mapped it out to do that,” Nevin said. “He’s just a pro. Everything he does is about this team and making himself better to help us win.”

The Angels also plan to utilize a six-man rotation in an effort to pitch Ohtani every six days. The sixth starter is more likely to be a swing role, which would allow the Halos to shuffle the rotation as necessary to keep Ohtani pitching every sixth day whenever possible.

Ohtani, who made a career-high 28 starts and posted a 2.33 ERA in 166 innings last year, said he’s on board with the plan. Ohtani had a 1.61 ERA in his 12 starts with five days of rest, compared to a 2.89 ERA in 16 starts when he had six days of rest or more.

“I was on five days’ rest a few times last year and I think my numbers were pretty good,” Ohtani said. “But I've never experienced it throughout the whole season in the long run. So I can't really tell you, but we'll see how it goes.”