Shohei Ohtani says he would only serve in possible WBC final as a relief for Japan

Shohei Ohtani told Japanese reporters Sunday that he would only be available to jump out of the bullpen in Tuesday’s World Baseball Classic finals should Japan beat Mexico in the semifinals.

“I don’t think I can start, but of course I want to prepare to hit the ground in relief,” Ohtani told reporters. “It depends on my physical condition. Up to this point the team has really listened to my selfish desires and there are many things I do that they have tolerated.

“This is the end of the end. From here I want to discuss with my body and make a decision.”

Ohtani gave up two runs for four hits and threw 71 pitches over 4 ⅔ innings in Japan’s quarterfinal win over Italy Thursday night in Tokyo. One of the pitches was a 102 mph fastball — the hardest pitch he’s ever thrown as a pro. Taking into account the time difference, Ohtani would put Tuesday at 4½ days rest. He never allowed himself less than five days of rest.

The Angels’ two-way superstar was one of the tournament’s top pitchers and hitters. At the plate, he’s 7 for 16 (.438) with one home run, three doubles, eight walks and eight RBIs. On the mound he gave up two runs – both against Italy – in 8 ⅔ innings over two starts.

Japan coach Hideki Kuriyama declined to say if Ohtani would play in the final.

“In terms of pitching, there are strategic issues and there are also considerations about his body,” Kuriyama said after Japan’s practice at LoanDepot Park. “I can’t really say at this point.”

With Ohtani limited to relief, Japan was able to turn to Yu Darvish to start the game on the mound. Darvish also shot against Italy on Thursday, but from the bullpen. He gave up a run and threw 27 pitches over two innings.

Japan must defeat Mexico in the semifinals on Monday for Tuesday’s pitching availability to matter. Roki Sasaki, perhaps the best non-major league shooter in the world, will start for the Japanese against the Angels’ Patrick Sandoval.

Sasaki is 21. He boasts a 100-mile fastball. Last April he threw a perfect game with 19 strikeouts for Chiba Lotte. He went on with eight perfect innings and 14 strikeouts before being pulled out of the scoreless game as a precaution.

“He’s young in age,” Kuriyama said, “but he’s a pitcher who has evolved to this point by being a pitcher with skills who has evolved at the same pace as his physique has evolved.”

Sasaki has said his dream is to play in the majors. The question is when.

“I think I’ll play in Japan,” Sasaki said through an interpreter. “And then I think something will become clear when I switch.”

Ohtani, 28, was once a phenomenon in Japan too. He has proven that his success in Japan is having an impact on the majors. Velocity plays everywhere and they both have it. Should Japan reach the finals, both talents could take the mound on one of baseball’s biggest stages in the world.

Columnist Dylan Hernández contributed to this report.

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