Los Angeles Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani was one of the heroes of Japan's comeback win over Mexico in the World Baseball Classic semifinals on Monday night. Japan's victory sets up a clash with Team USA -- and Ohtani's MLB teammate Mike Trout -- in the finals on Tuesday night. The high-stakes matchup raises the matter of whether Ohtani will pitch with the trophy on the line.
After Japan's thrilling win over Mexico, Ohtani through an interpreter told Ken Rosenthal that he will "definitely be prepared" to take the mound in the final:
"I will definitely be prepared to pitch wherever, but before that I am going to have to hit and make sure I put some runs on the board before I pitch."— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) March 21, 2023
Shohei Ohtani spoke with @Ken_Rosenthal after Japan's WILD walk-off winner 🇯🇵 pic.twitter.com/TFeGJCDqhO
Prior to the semifinal, Japan's manager Hideki Kuriyama was asked about the chances that Ohtani would take the mound if Japan advanced to the final. "I won't say it's a zero," he told reporters, including the AP.
As for the Angels, Ohtani's employer, they're no doubt acutely aware of Ohtani's past injuries and would probably prefer that he didn't add any miles to the odometer on Tuesday. That said, general manager Perry Minasian, when asked about the possibility that Ohtani will pitch against Team USA, said such a decision is "his call."
Lefty Shota Imanaga will start for Japan against the U.S., so if Ohtani does pitch it will be out of the bullpen. He hasn't made a relief appearance since 2016, when he was still pitching professionally in Japan. That said, both Ohtani and his manager have acknowledged the possibility that he'll take the mound on Tuesday night. Given that the WBC title hangs in the balance, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ohtani called upon for a high-leverage appearance and perhaps even face Trout.
Ohtani last pitched last Thursday (March 16) in Japan's win over Italy in the quarterfinals. In that start, he worked 4 2/3 innings and allowed two runs on four hits with with five strikeouts and one walk. Of his 71 pitches, 48 went for strikes. If he does pitch in the final, then Ohtani would do so on the standard four days of rest.