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Ohtani reflects on sensational rookie season

Two-way star credits Ichiro for helping him improve
MLB.com @mattkellyMLB

Fresh off an American League Rookie of the Year Award season, Angels sensation Shohei Ohtani met with Japanese reporters in Tokyo on Thursday to reflect on his headline-making debut in Major League Baseball.

The 24-year-old two way player, who is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, spoke to the elite competition he had to grow accustomed to in the United States.

Fresh off an American League Rookie of the Year Award season, Angels sensation Shohei Ohtani met with Japanese reporters in Tokyo on Thursday to reflect on his headline-making debut in Major League Baseball.

The 24-year-old two way player, who is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, spoke to the elite competition he had to grow accustomed to in the United States.

"Everything was different -- the baseball, the culture," said Ohtani. "I was aware right away of a higher level of power, technique and speed."

There were widespread reservations about Ohtani's ability to adjust to the Major Leagues after he struggled in Spring Training, but he credited his fellow countryman Ichiro Suzuki with helping him recalibrate.

Video: Ohtani discusses his reverence for Ichiro

"I really was having trouble -- not playing as I thought I should and also with my mental attitude," Ohtani admitted. "[Ichiro] made time for me. From that, I came away in better shape, both in terms of attitude and approach. I am so grateful to him."

Ohtani flipped the switch in the regular season, beginning with a pair of starts against the playoff-bound A's in which he allowed only three runs and paired 18 strikeouts with two walks over 13 innings. Ohtani finished with a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts over 51 2/3 innings before a strained ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his pitching elbow forced him off the mound. He also proved to be one of the AL's best hitters, compiling a .925 OPS to go with 22 homers as a designated hitter. In the process, Ohtani became the first player since Babe Ruth to hit 20 home runs and make 10 pitching appearances in a season.

Video: Shohei Ohtani wins the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year

Ohtani's Tommy John surgery means he likely won't get a chance to duplicate his two-way success until 2020, but he said his recovery is going smoothly.

"After the surgery, everything went fine and continues to be," he said. "For the first month or so, I was frustrated by not being able to use my right hand as much as I would have liked. But because now I don't feel any such impediment, I believe it really was good to have had it."

In regards to his rehabilitation, Ohtani added, "I can do most anything that doesn't put a heavy load on my right arm. I'm doing light resistance training with my right arm. All the time, I'm bending and extending the arm, and I want to keep doing that. After, I will progress toward being able to play in real games."

Ohtani will be back as a hitter in Spring Training, and he said he remains focused on his original goal: To become the best baseball player in the world.

"I'm not going to change my stance about striving in that direction," Ohtani said, "but it's not something you're going to see in one season. That's something that will be seen in the process of playing five to 10 years, so I want to give it my best shot next year and beyond."

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Los Angeles Angels, Shohei Ohtani