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Shohei Ohtani as closer? Angels’ two-way star thinking about it for World Baseball Classic

We’ve seen Shohei Ohtani as a power hitter. We’ve seen Shohei Ohtani as an ace pitcher. What about Shohei Ohtani, the closer?

It’s not out of the realm of possibility if the Angels’ two-way star decides to play for Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic.

“If you’re going to pitch as a starter [in the WBC], you’d have to be built up to 60, 70 pitches. So you have to take that into account,” Ohtani told reporters in Japanese on Tuesday at Tokyo-Haneda Airport. “But if they say you don’t have to start, there’s no reason to move up anything.”

The Tokyo Dome will host Round 1 games for Pool B teams — Japan, China, Korea, Australia and the Czech Republic. Those games start March 9, 2023. Angels pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training Feb. 13, 2023, opening Cactus League play Feb. 25.

Asked if he wanted to play in that first round, Ohtani said: “It could depend in part on whether I start or pitch as a middle reliever or closer. I don’t know if they’ll say I could just hit in the first stage.”

Ohtani said he will take the time back home to relax and decide whether he will play for Team Japan.

As for how playing in the tournament would impact his offseason workout schedule, Ohtani said: “If I’m a middle reliever or closer, there’s no need to speed up anything. That being said, if I’m going to be a starter … I’ll have to start up early.”

Ohtani, since coming to MLB from the Japanese League, has never pitched in relief. In Japan, he almost always started. Not that any of this would preclude him from possibly being a shutdown reliever for his home team if necessary.

As shown this past season — which he finished 15-9 with a 2.33 earned-run average, striking out a career-high 219 batters — any given inning he’s pitching usually means trouble for the opponent.

Angels’ Shohei Ohtani speaks to reporters Tuesday at the Haneda international airport in Tokyo.

(Koji Ueda / Associated Press)

Numbers aside, Ohtani has proved he is capable of doing almost anything on the field , like when he added a two-seamer to his pitch arsenal in the middle of the season; when he took a perfect game into the sixth inning in Houston in April; when he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of a game in September.

Asked specifically if he would be a closer if Team Japan asks him to, Ohtani said: “If you’re told you’re going to start and that happens, the emotional preparation … it’s not the same as battling all season and them asking you to do that in the postseason. Also taking into account the time of year, if it’s something outside of what you imagine doing, I think it’s hard.”

As for the Angels, general manager Perry Minasian has no worries about whether the WBC would impact Ohtani’s regular season and has already given his blessing for whatever Ohtani chooses to do.

“I’m not standing in anybody’s way,” Minasian reiterated in his end-of-season news conference. “Shohei has earned the right if he wants to go play, to go play.”

It’s been almost two weeks since Ohtani and the Angels finished their season with a 73-89 record. And although Ohtani took the time to reflect on the 2022 season after his final start Oct. 5, he gave additional remarks when asked Tuesday.

“When the season ended, I was relieved,” he said. “From here, I’d like to do my best with next season in mind.

“Following last year, I think it was a good season for me individually. … Next year, I’d like to play games with postseason implications for as long as possible.”

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