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OC Register: Angels approve Shohei Ohtani to pitch in tonight’s World Baseball Classic final vs. USA


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TEMPE, Ariz. — The baseball world is eager to see a Shohei Ohtani-Mike Trout matchup, and those who run the Angels are no different.

“Who wouldn’t want to see the two best players in the world go at it, right?” Angels manager Phil Nevin said Tuesday morning. “Then we’d have a lot of fun talking about it the rest of the year.”

When Team USA faces Japan in the World Baseball Classic final Tuesday in Miami, one of the primary storylines will be whether Ohtani pitches, potentially facing Trout.

Ohtani started in the quarterfinal against Italy on Thursday in Tokyo. By his normal schedule, he would not pitch again until Wednesday, at the earliest. Although most big-league pitchers routinely work on four days’ rest, Ohtani has never pitched in the majors on less than five days’ rest.

Ohtani and the Angels had planned on him starting Friday in Arizona, which would put him on a normal five days’ rest before his start on Opening Day the following Thursday in Oakland.

Making a normal start in the WBC is not on the table. Nevin said Tuesday morning that the Angels had planned all along for the possibility that Ohtani would work one inning in the championship game. Ohtani said after Monday’s semifinal that he would be prepared to pitch.

Nevin said this would be Ohtani’s bullpen day before a start Friday. While he conceded that an inning in the WBC final would be far more intense than a bullpen session, he said they would simply balance that by having his Friday start moved to the controllable, low-stress environment of a minor-league game.

Either way, Ohtani would still be OK to pitch Opening Day.

“I trust him in the way he’d prepare for that,” Nevin said. “I know this is a really big night for baseball. I’m excited to watch it.”

The other issue is if Ohtani pitches in relief Tuesday night, it would likely be difficult for him to do so with the normal preparation that he would go through when he pitches, because he’ll be playing in the game as the DH.

Angels general manager Perry Minasian said he’s not concerned that Ohtani would be at risk from the getting out of his routine.

“He’s the last guy on planet Earth I’m worried about,” Minasian said. “He’s going to be prepared. He’s going to have an idea of what he needs to do. If he does decide to pitch, I have the utmost confidence he will be ready to pitch and be fine.”

All of this comes at a critical place in time for the Angels and Ohtani, who is set to be a free agent at the end of the season, perhaps getting a deal worth $500 million. The Angels are looking at a seven-year playoff drought, and starting the season with a healthy Ohtani is a key to the Angels finally having a winning season.

Both the Angels and Ohtani have plenty on the line.

Still, Minasian said it’s good for the game if this moment happens.

“I love this game,” Minasian said. “I love this game more than any other game in the world. I want to see this game grow. I think this tournament has been unbelievable, as good as it could possibly go. The games have been amazing. The players have been awesome. The energy, the fans, the passion, the attention.

“For me at least, if he wants to pitch and he takes the mound, I think it would be great for the world to see him pitch in that environment.”

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