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Shohei Ohtani says he would only pitch in relief for Japan in potential WBC final

Shohei Ohtani of Japan delivers a pitch in the second inning of the Pool B game against China, at the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in Tokyo, Japan, Thursday, March 9, 2023.(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Shohei Ohtani of Japan delivers a pitch in during pool play in the World Baseball Classic. Ohtani told Japanese media Sunday that he would only be available to pitch out of the bullpen in the World Baseball Classic final Tuesday should Japan beat Mexico in the semifinals. (Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press)

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

“I don’t think there’s a chance of me starting, but of course I’d like to prepare to pitch in relief,” Ohtani said in Japanese to reporters. “That will depend on my physical condition. Up to this point, the team has really listened to my selfish requests and there are many things I’m doing that they have tolerated.

“This is the end of the end. From here, I’d like to have a discussion with my body and make a decision.”

Ohtani surrendered two runs on four hits and threw 71 pitches across 4 ⅔ innings in Japan’s quarterfinal win over Italy in Tokyo on Thursday night. One of the pitches was a 102-mph fastball — the hardest pitch he’s ever thrown as a professional. Accounting for the time difference, Ohtani would pitch Tuesday on 4½ days’ rest. He’s never pitched on less than five days’ rest.

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

Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama declined to say whether Ohtani would pitch in the final.

“Regarding pitching, there are strategic issues and there are also considerations about his body,” Kuriyama said after Japan’s workout at loanDepot Park. “I can’t really say at this point.”

With Ohtani limited to relief, Japan could turn to Yu Darvish to start the game on the mound. Darvish also pitched Thursday against Italy but out of the bullpen. He gave up one run and threw 27 pitches across two innings.

Japan needs to defeat Mexico in the semifinals Monday for Tuesday’s pitching availability to matter. It’ll be Patrick Sandoval’s job to help make that irrelevant.

The Angels left-hander will make his second start of the tournament for Mexico on Monday after holding Team USA to one run in three innings in Mexico’s upset win in Phoenix on March 12. Sandoval…

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