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OC Register: Angels’ Shohei Ohtani ready to turn page from World Baseball Classic to Opening Day


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TEMPE, Ariz. — Friday afternoon was something of a palate cleanser for Shohei Ohtani.

In between the electric atmosphere of a World Baseball Classic title for Japan and Opening Day of a season that’s critical for him and the Angels, Ohtani went through the formality of one last spring training workout.

A couple of hundred people – half of them media members – watched Ohtani throw 81 pitches against a team of Arizona Diamondbacks Class-A players on a back field at the Angels’ complex.

The Angels had originally planned to have Ohtani pitch in Friday’s Cactus League game against the Padres, but they opted instead for the low-stress, controlled environment of a minor league game, in which innings can be shortened or extended to fit the pitcher’s needs.

“With all the pitches and the high intensity I was throwing in the Classic, I felt like I was already ready for Opening Day,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “Today was just fine-tuning stuff.”

Ohtani threw all of his pitches except his curveball, giving up one run on a wind-blown homer by 19-year-old Gavin Conticello. Ohtani struck out eight and walked one. He worked 4-2/3 innings.

Ohtani, who will pitch the Angels opener next Thursday night in Oakland, said his “body was a little more sore than normal” because it had been just three days since his 15-pitch outing to close out the WBC with a strikeout of Mike Trout.

Ohtani punctuated that moment by hurling his glove and cap into the air, and he later described it as the best moment of his life.

Ohtani said his best memories were pitching in front of the fans in Japan, starting with the first game of pool play in the Tokyo Dome against China.

“How quiet the stadium was, even though it was a full stadium, that kind of gave me chills,” Ohtani said. “It was a weird feeling.”

Now, he has traded in his Japan uniform for the red of the Angels, and all of the exhilaration has been replaced by the same questions.

Ohtani is set to be a free agent at the end of the season, and most around the sport assume that he will sign a deal of at least $500 million to pitch somewhere else.

The Angels have not had a winning season in any of Ohtani’s five years, a point that fans and analysts mentioned frequently as the baseball world enjoyed seeing him perform in the spotlight of the WBC.

For the record, Ohtani said nothing has changed about his potential free agency since he experienced the WBC, but he said “I definitely want to win a ring with the Angels.”

Ohtani said his appetite to enjoy that kind of atmosphere with the Angels is now even greater: “After experiencing those games, win or go home, I definitely felt like I want to experience that here too.”

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