Shohei Ohtani's mentor from Japan 'relieved' star is thriving; Angels lose to Twins

Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) sits in the dugout.
Angels star Shohei Ohtani sits in the dugout before Friday night's 4-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins. He has said he wants to play in next March's World Baseball Classic. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

The day before last month's All-Star Game, Shohei Ohtani said he wanted to play in next March's World Baseball Classic and was under the impression that the Angels would let him. And on Friday, before the team's 4-0 home loss to the Minnesota Twins, one of Ohtani’s mentors stopped by for that very reason.

Hideki Kuriyama — who was Ohtani's Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters manager and is the manager of the Japanese national baseball team, called Samurai Japan — has been on a nationwide tour to meet with Major League Baseball players who potentially could compete for Japan's WBC team.

Kuriyama had not spoken to Ohtani about the WBC by the time he addressed reporters before the Angels’ game and did not have an answer as to whether Ohtani would play for Japan.

He was asked to reflect on the Ohtani he coached compared with the reigning American League most valuable player he is today.

“I worked with him for five years and sent him here believing he could do this,” Kuriyama said in Japanese. “As a person who was entrusted by his parents, more than being or feeling happy, I feel relieved that he’s performing like this in the majors.

“He was the kind of player who could perform on the world stage, and we took him in out of high school. I would’ve felt responsible had it not gone well here. I think I’ll be happy once he’s done with baseball.”

Ohtani went to the Fighters out of high school after Kuriyama and the team convinced him to develop further in Japan rather than try to go through MLB’s minor league system.

Angels star Shohei Ohtani bats against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday.
Angels star Shohei Ohtani bats against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Kuriyama also was one of the people who believed Ohtani could become a two-way star instead of just being a pitcher.

“In Japan, to make sure we didn’t break his body, we gave him days off after he pitched,” Kuriyama said when asked about the difference in Ohtani then and now. “The fact that he can play in this many games, I’m sure from here he’ll be on five days’ rest. That’s different from Japan."

Kuriyama felt the pressure of helping Ohtani grow.

Hideki Kuriyama, then manager of the Nippon-Ham Fighters, speaks to an umpire during an exhibition game March 17, 2019.
Hideki Kuriyama, then manager of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, speaks to an umpire during an exhibition game March 17, 2019. (Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press)

“When Shohei decided to come to the Fighters, I was happy for about three seconds,” Kuriyama said with a laugh. “The responsibility of handling a treasure is enormous. So I was relieved when he left.”

Today, he is not surprised by Ohtani’s success.

“In Japan, he cleared challenges that people thought were impossible,” Kuriyama said. “How high can he clear? No one viewed his ceiling as high as I did. Even now, I think he can do more.”

On Friday night, Ohtani went 0 for 4, striking out twice. During his second at-bat, he and the crowd were unhappy with a strike call. Plate umpire Cory Blaser was booed, and a camera with a feed to the Jumbotron at Angel Stadium panned to Kuriyama watching Ohtani.

Updates on Mike Trout, other injured Angels

The Angels’ season has gone off the rails for several reasons.

Among them are the freak injuries that have hindered the team at just about every step of the way.

From Mike Trout’s uncommon back injury to Anthony Rendon’s wrist injury, here’s how three of the Angels with the strangest injuries have been doing in their recoveries.

Trout, who in July was diagnosed with costovertebral dysfunction at T5 — a joint at the thoracic section of his back, where a rib connects to his spine — has continued to make progress in his return.

The slugger said Friday that aside from starting to hit off a tee, he has been able to play catch in the batting cages and will start to hit on the field Saturday.

“Everything feels good,” Trout said.

Angels center fielder Mike Trout.
Angels center fielder Mike Trout. (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

There is still no timeline for the star center fielder’s return and no plan for whether he will need a rehabilitation assignment, but Trout said he hopes to return “sooner rather than later.”

Trout’s injury was considered uncommon because it occurs mostly in athletes who play contact sports, though overuse of that joint, like from swinging a bat too much, also could be a factor.

Rendon, a third baseman, saw his season end early again in June because of a partially dislocated wrist tendon. The injury first surfaced during an at-bat May 8. He had season-ending surgery to repair the tendon — which he tried to delay by playing through the pain and discomfort.

On Friday, before the Angels’ game, Rendon was taking ground balls on the field. The hope is he will be finished rehabilitating from the surgery by the winter so he can have a normal offseason before the next spring training.

Relief pitcher Archie Bradley fractured his elbow falling over the dugout railing trying to get to the brawl with the Seattle Mariners in late June. The injury required a minimum four-week shutdown from throwing.

There is cautious optimism Bradley might return this season. Angels athletic trainer Mike Frostad said Bradley could start throwing next week but added “whether or not that gives us enough time [to get him back] is still up in the air. … He’s still a little ways away.”

Patrick Sandoval gets no support as Angels lose

Angels starter Patrick Sandoval pitches during the second inning Aug. 12, 2022.
Angels starter Patrick Sandoval gave up two runs in five innings Friday night and took the loss in a 4-0 defeat to the Twins. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Patrick Sandoval could only watch as the Twins' Gilberto Celestino smacked his 1-and-1 slider over the left-field wall and into the visiting bullpen in the second inning for a two-run homer.

The Angels starting pitcher with a usually reliable slider got hit hard on that pitch. It was all the offense the Twins needed as the Angels lost 4-0.

Sandoval went five innings, giving up two runs and five hits. He walked four and struck out four over 95 pitches, just 55 for strikes.

His first walk happened on the first batter he faced, Byron Buxton.

“Not happy with how I threw the ball today,” Sandoval said of not having his best stuff. “Four walks is embarrassing. Big props to the defense behind me making big plays.

“It was there some at-bats, and then some at-bats it just wasn’t. It’s just frustrating.”

One of those big defensive plays came in the third. The Twins' Sandy Leon, who reached on a walk, was trying to reach home on a single by Jose Miranda. Angels left fielder Jo Adell made the throw to catcher Max Stassi in time, eliciting cheers from the home crowd.

The Angels mustered just three hits off Twins starter Tyler Mahle — who entered the game with a 4.49 earned-run average. Minnesota acquired the right-hander in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds at this year’s deadline.

Two of those three hits came from David Fletcher, who continued to impress at the plate following his return from significant injury. He had surgery in May to repair the adductor muscles in both legs and an abdominal muscle. On Friday, he had two singles but was left stranded both times.

So were Luis Rengifo and Steven Duggar. Rengifo’s double in the sixth went to the right-field corner and allowed Duggar, who reached base on a walk, to get to third.

Rengifo picked up another hit in the ninth inning.

Minnesota added insurance runs in the sixth and eighth innings. In the sixth, Gio Urshela homered off Angels reliever Mike Mayers. Luis Arraez’s RBI single two innings later also came off Mayers.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.