Ohtani didn’t smile or laugh. He didn’t sigh. He didn’t break eye contact or give a knowing look. He didn’t stumble over his words.
Asked about the mounting speculation that he could sign with the Dodgers in the winter, Ohtani was as soft-spoken and measured as he was when answering any other question in his eight-plus-minute postgame media scrum on Wednesday night.
“I want to concentrate on the season,” Ohtani said in Japanese. “I’m leaving it up to my agent [Nez Balelo], and me personally, I want to concentrate on the season.”
His body language was as controlled as the fastballs he fired earlier in the night in a 2-0 defeat to the Dodgers at Angel Stadium.
His conservative word choices offered no clues to what he was thinking about his impending free agency.
His seven-inning, 12-strikeout performance marked his first start against the Dodgers, the team he would have likely signed with as an 18-year-old high school senior had he not been presented with a chance to be a two-way player by the Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Japanese league. The Dodgers scouted Ohtani on nearly a daily basis when he was at Hanamaki Higashi High School.
A decade later, did Ohtani still hold the Dodgers in special regard or view them differently than other opponents?
“Not just the Dodgers, but I’m grateful to the teams that intensely tried to recruit me when I came here [after the 2017 season],” Ohtani said. “But when it comes to throwing and hitting, the opponent doesn’t change what I do. Regardless of the opponent, I have to do what I have to do.”
This careful guarding of his thoughts was nothing new, as many people in his orbit have said they have no clue what he will prioritize when he becomes a free agent.
The speculation that Ohtani could move to the Dodgers is just that — speculation — but it’s guesswork founded on a certain amount of logic.
Ohtani has said he wants to win, and the Dodgers have reached the postseason in each of the last 10 years.
Ohtani is said to dislike playing in cold weather and the climate at Dodger Stadium is like that of Angel Stadium. The addition of the designated-hitter rule in the National League ensures Ohtani would be allowed to have a similar role on the Dodgers as he has with the Angels.
In their two-game sweep of the Angels in this edition of the Freeway Series, the Dodgers presented a case for why Ohtani should sign with them.
The Dodgers simply have more of everything than the Angels.
They have more hitting, with Ohtani acknowledging he was impressed by their collective approach.
They have more pitching, as they deployed seven relievers in a bullpen game on Wednesday to pitch a two-hit shutout.
Perhaps most important, they have more money. They have the money to sign Ohtani to a $500- or $600-million contract and sign players to complement him.
Before the game on Wednesday night, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts came close to saying he wanted Ohtani on his team without actually saying he wanted Ohtani on his team.
“I don’t think there’s a manger that wouldn’t love Shohei,” Roberts said, “but right now, he’s an Angel, so I want to get hits off him and I want to get him out four times tonight.”
Roberts added with a laugh: “And I can’t afford tampering charges.”
The Dodgers accomplished what Roberts set out for them to do, as Ohtani followed up his 0-for-4 game on Tuesday night with another 0-for-4 performance.
Roberts’ team managed to collect five hits against Ohtani, one of which was a homer by Freeman in the fourth inning. Ohtani was removed from the game as a pitcher after the seventh inning, at which point the Angels were behind 1-0.
“I was sort of a fan tonight,” Roberts said. “To throw 100 pitches and to focus like he did for 100 pitches, really kept us at bay, you could argue dominated us, and to go out there and take four at-bats and still have competitive ABs, it’s just remarkable to watch.
“I’m a manager first, but as a fan, it’s hard not to appreciate that.”
The Dodgers’ admiration of Ohtani is obvious. What’s unknown is whether the feelings are mutual. Ohtani won’t say. The Dodgers will find out during the winter.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports