Ohtani pitches before Japan trip, reaching 98 mph

March 1st, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- Two-way superstar looked sharp against the A’s on Tuesday, throwing 2 1/3 hitless innings in his lone Cactus League tune-up ahead of joining Team Japan in Tokyo for the World Baseball Classic.

Ohtani was scheduled to throw two innings, but he was efficient enough to go back out for the third and face two more batters. He threw 34 pitches with two walks, two strikeouts and his fastball reaching as high as 98 mph.

“My main goal today was to feel out all my pitches, and I was able to accomplish that,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “I felt pretty good with all of them for the most part, so I feel pretty good about that. But it was the first real game this year, so I wanted to ease in a little bit and hit 95 [mph] and I was able to do that. In the second inning, ideally, I would like to throw 100, but 98, I’m pretty satisfied.”

Ohtani, the AL MVP Award winner in 2021 and runner-up in ’22, was originally scheduled to pitch on Wednesday against the Brewers, but he elected to push that up and give himself an extra day to get over the jetlag that comes with flying to Japan. He then will train with Team Japan before it begins play on March 9 against China at the Tokyo Dome.

Moving the start up a day also created a matchup with Japanese countryman Shintaro Fujinami. Making his spring debut for Oakland, Fujinami held the Angels scoreless for two innings, racking up three strikeouts and inducing a double play to escape a bases-loaded jam in the second.

For Team Japan, Ohtani is set to serve as both a starting pitcher and designated hitter, but he said he isn’t sure which game he’ll start on the mound yet. It’s his first time participating in the Classic after he missed the 2017 tournament with an ankle injury.

“I don’t know when I’m pitching yet but I am excited,” Ohtani said. “I’ll find out how excited I really am when I get there, especially because I wasn’t able to play in the last one due to injury.”

Ohtani added that he was pleased to gain experience with the pitch timer on Tuesday, especially because the new rules will not be enforced at the Classic and he won’t have the chance to practice with it much this spring. Ohtani, who was one of the club’s slower workers on the mound last year, focused on improving his pace this offseason.

He said he’s also prone to shaking off the catcher, so he’s going to utilize the PitchCom system to call his own pitches to the catcher to save time. Ohtani used it for the first time in a game Tuesday and didn’t commit any violations.

He also again threw to top Angels prospect -- MLB Pipeline's 53rd overall -- who has been getting plenty of work with Ohtani this spring so they can get familiarity before the regular season. Ohtani already has a strong working relationship with primary catcher . In addition to catching Ohtani on Tuesday, O'Hoppe crushed his first home run of the spring, a two-run shot in the fourth inning.

“It’s the same rule for everyone,” Ohtani said of the pitch timer. “Everyone's going to adjust. So far, so good. I feel like I'm being a little bit rushed, but as long as I keep on getting games under my belt, I’ll be fine.”

Angels manager Phil Nevin said he’s not worried about Ohtani adjusting to the pitch timer or preparing for his Opening Day start against the A’s on March 30 in Oakland. The Angels will have consistent contact with Ohtani and Team Japan’s coaching staff to keep him on a schedule.

Ohtani could be away from camp until as late as March 22 because the Classic final is set for March 21 in Miami. Japan is considered one of the better teams in the tournament and is expected to advance from Pool B play in Tokyo, which also includes China, Korea, Australia and the Czech Republic. The quarterfinals for Pools A and B are in Japan from March 15-16, but the semifinals and final will be in Miami.

“It's going to be a strict regimen that he's going to follow, whether it's pitch counts in the game or his side work,” Nevin said. “They have the days mapped out when he's going to pitch, when he's going to do his work on the side and when he's going to hit for that matter. That’s all been mapped out, and it's the same thing we would have done with him here. I know they're going to be careful with him. I know he's going to understand what his body's doing, and he’s going to be ready to go when he gets back to us.”