Next for Ohtani after epic Classic? 'Win a ring with the Angels'

Two-way star fans eight in Minor League tuneup before Opening Day start

March 25th, 2023

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It’s fair to say the atmosphere was a bit different for in his start in a Minor League game on Friday compared to his previous outing earlier in the week.

Ohtani, fresh off picking up the save to lead Team Japan to the World Baseball Classic championship over Team USA on Tuesday, threw 4 2/3 innings (81 pitches) against D-backs Minor Leaguers on a practice field to get ready for Opening Day. He struck out eight, walked one and allowed a run on a wind-aided homer by Minor Leaguer Gavin Conticello.

The Angels wanted Ohtani to pitch in a controlled environment after his rare relief appearance in the Classic, and he felt like he did what he needed to do to get ready for his Opening Day start against the A’s on Thursday in Oakland.

“Today was about getting to my pitch count, getting used to the pitch clock again, the PitchCom and my offspeed pitches,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I feel like I was able to accomplish that. Obviously, this wasn’t like a real game setting, but there were things I wanted to accomplish. I felt like with the intensity of the Classic, I was all ready for Opening Day, but this was about fine-tuning stuff.”

Ohtani, the American League MVP in 2021 and the runner-up last year, was named the MVP of the Classic after batting .435 with a homer, four doubles, 10 walks and eight RBIs as a hitter and going 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings as a pitcher.

He’s set to serve as the designated hitter in all three Freeway Series games against the Dodgers from Sunday to Tuesday to get ready for the season. He said he’s feeling strong despite his one-inning stint against Team USA, which ended with a memorable strikeout of his teammate Mike Trout to secure Team Japan’s third World Baseball Classic title.

“It wasn't too big of an adjustment because it was supposed to be my bullpen day anyways,” Ohtani said. “I just made, like, an extra 15 high-intensity pitches, so my body was a little more sore than normal. But like I said earlier, today's theme was to get to my pitch count, work on my breaking balls and PitchCom.”

Ohtani, who is set to become a free agent after the season, added that the Classic experience made him eager to reach the postseason for the first time in his career in the Majors. The Angels are aiming to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014, and Ohtani has stated in the past how much winning means to him. He already won a title in Japan, and now he wants to know what it would be like to play in the World Series.

“I definitely felt that experiencing win-or-go-home,” Ohtani said. "I definitely felt like I want to experience that here, too. It was my first time starting pitching and playing in a playoff atmosphere like that since my days in Japan, so it was a little different. I felt like this is what baseball should be all about. I’ve never experienced the World Series, and it's hard to tell you [what that would be like], but my guess is it would be something similar.”

Ohtani, who saw his Instagram following grow from 2 million followers to 4 million, couldn’t help but beam about his first experience in the Classic. He accomplished all of his goals and believes it helped him get ready for the season because he played in such high-intensity games.

“First of all, playing in front of the fans in Japan again, that was a great moment,” Ohtani said. “Playing with all the great teammates was another moment. The last one would be before I made that first pitch against China -- the first game of the Classic. How quiet the stadium was even though it was a packed stadium, it just gave me chills, and it was kind of like a weird feeling.”

But Ohtani added that he doesn’t believe his epic performance in the tournament will affect his free-agent contract and that he’s just trying to focus on the upcoming season with the Angels and not his contract situation.

“I don't think it really changes anything in regards to free agency, but I definitely want to win a ring with the Angels,” Ohtani said. “I have a week to prepare. So I’ll rest up, prepare and be ready.”