TIME, Ariz. – It’s fair to say that Shohei Ohtani’s minor league release on Friday was a little different than his release earlier in the week.
Ohtani, who earned a bye in Japan for the United States in the World Baseball Classic finale on Tuesday, pitched 4.2 innings (81 pitches) against the minor leaguers for the D-back on the practice field. Out of eight, he walked one and gave up a home run to Gavin Conticelle, who hit a home run over the fence.
“The goal was to count the pitch, re-adjust to the pitch timer, PitchCom and the voice breaker,” Ippei Mizuhara said through an interpreter. I feel like I did. Obviously, it wasn’t the developer himself, but I wanted the result. I feel like, with the intensity of the Classic, I was ready for Opening Day, but (Thursday) I had to finish every single thing.”
Ohtani, who was the 2021 AL MVP and second in the award voting last year, was named Classic MVP after hitting .435 with one home run, four doubles, 10 walks and eight RBIs while going 2-0. 1.86 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 9.2 innings as a pitcher.
Ohtani is scheduled to serve as the designated hitter in all three games of the “Road Series” against the Dodgers from Sunday through Tuesday. The Japanese added that he feels strong despite one inning against the United States, which started on a hit by Major League teammate Mike Trout in Japan’s third World Baseball Classic title.
“It wasn’t a huge adjustment because it was still supposed to be my bullpen day,” Ohtani said. “As he did like 15 words extra high intensity, so my body was a little heavier than usual. But, as I said, the theme (Friday) was to get to my pitch count and work on breaking voices and at PitchCom.
Ohtani, who can become a free agent after the season ends, added that the Classic will give him more motivation to make the first play in the majors. The Angels haven’t been on the list since 2014, and Ohtani said that’s how much he’s winning. He’s already won a title in Japan, now he wants to know what it’s like to play in the World Series.
“I definitely felt like it was a win-or-go-home experience,” Ohtani said. “I definitely felt like I wanted to try it here too. It was my first time as a starter and playing in a playoff atmosphere like when I was in Japan, so it was a little different. This is how I felt about baseball. It’s never been through the World Series, so it’s hard (to say what’s going to happen), but I think it’s going to be something like that.”
Ohtani, who has seen his number of followers on Instagram increase from two million to four million, could not contain himself when talking about his first experience in the Clásico. He met all his goals and believes that it helped him prepare for the season because he played high-intensity sports.
“First, playing in front of the fans in Japan is a big moment again,” Ohtani said. “The game with all those amazing teammates was another highlight. The last one was that first pitch against China – the first Classic game. How quiet the stadium was even though it was packed. It gave me goosebumps and it was a strange feeling.”
But Ohtani added that he doesn’t think his strong tournament performance will affect him in free agency and is simply trying to focus on the upcoming season with the Angels and not his contract situation.
“I don’t think this will change anything in free agency, but I definitely want to get a ring with the Angels,” Ohtani said. “I have a week to prepare. So I will rest, prepare and be ready.