Ohtani 'prepared' to pitch for Japan in final vs. Trout, USA
It's all arms on deck for Samurai Japan in the World Baseball Classic final - including Shohei Ohtani.
Though the two-way superstar won't start Tuesday's final against the United States, Ohtani confirmed he'll be available to pitch in relief.
"I'll definitely be prepared to pitch wherever, but before that, I'm gonna have to hit and make sure I put some runs on the board before I get to pitch," Ohtani told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports through his interpreter after Japan's stunning walk-off win in Monday's semifinal over Mexico.
Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama confirmed his superstar's words, saying there's "not a zero chance" Ohtani pitches in the final, according to Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe. When asked if he might start the game on the mound, Ohtani said, "Maybe not," according to Newsday's David Lennon.
Angels general manager Perry Minasian said it's up to Ohtani to decide whether he pitches in the finale, according to Rosenthal.
Ohtani, playing in his first World Baseball Classic, has been his usual dominant self on both sides of the ball throughout the tournament. He's earned the win in each of his two starts on the mound while posting a 2.08 ERA and 0.69 WHIP with 10 strikeouts and one walk in 8.2 innings.
As Japan's designated hitter, the 28-year-old's hit .450/.621/.800 with five extra-base hits, nine walks, and a stolen base. His lead-off double in the bottom of the ninth set up Japan's game-winning rally Monday.
Since he'll be in the starting lineup, Ohtani noted that it'll be a bit more of a challenge to prepare for a relief appearance while designated hitting.
"Mentally, I'll be prepared for it," he said, per Lennon. "Obviously, I'm DHing, so it's going be hard to find time to get (ready) in the bullpen."
If he pitches against the Americans, baseball fans could be treated to Ohtani facing his Los Angeles Angels teammate and fellow superstar Mike Trout.
"Every person I talk to that faces him says they don't want to be in the box," Trout told reporters in February about the possibility of facing Ohtani in the WBC. "It's going to be interesting, I'm looking forward to it. He's one of my good friends. So it's going to be fun."
Japan, which is trying to win its third WBC title since the tournament started in 2006, will start left-hander Shota Imanaga against the U.S., according to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. San Diego Padres righty Yu Darvish is also expected to pitch out of the bullpen in Tuesday's final.
Team USA will counter with right-hander Merrill Kelly.