Why Shohei Ohtani is unlikely to face Mike Trout and Team USA at the World Baseball Classic

One of the many joys of the World Baseball Classic is that there are often matchups that would otherwise go unseen. From an American perspective, these are often players who are longtime teammates in Major League Baseball. In fact, the most intriguing forbidden fruit matchup of this WBC was the possibility of Shohei Ohtani pitching his Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout as part of a potential late-stage contest between Japan and Team USA.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like said clash will be on the table – and that’s not just because Team USA’s loss to Mexico on Sunday hurt their chances of progressing beyond the pool game. More like Jeff Fletcher from the Orange County Registry reported on Sunday that the plan for Ohtani is for him to return to the Angels for an exhibition start on March 24. That start would put him in line to take the ball on March 30, MLB’s opening day.

“I get that,” Angels manager Phil Nevin told Fletcher. “He’s going to throw the quarter-final game, then he’d be available for us this Friday (March 24) when they come back, no matter what. Friday was the day he wanted to throw in preparation for Oakland.”

For his part, Ohtani appeared unaware of the plan when asked about Nevin’s comments. “No, we haven’t even spoken yet, so nothing is decided yet.” he told reporters in Japan.

Japan won Pool B in a dominating manner, winning all four competitions and averaging more than seven runs. They next play on March 16 when they meet Italy, runners-up in Group A. Another win would send Japan through to the semi-finals, where they would meet again on March 20. Unfortunately, Ohtani would not be able to pitch in that game (or the championship finals) without jeopardizing the aforementioned plan to have him start on March 24th.

It’s possible that plans will change, but given the importance MLB teams place on their own seasons and given the strained nature of the Japanese rotation — they also have Yu Darvish, Roki Sasaki and Yoshinobu Yamamoto — the odds seem slim being bad Ohtani is pitching for Trout this March.

Now that that’s established, we feel compelled to point out that the dream may not be fulfilled for this matchup, which takes place sometime this year. After all, the Angels are scheduled to play the New York Mets (but not the Los Angeles Dodgers) in August, well after the close of trading. Should the Angels drop out of the competition by the end of July, it’s at least possible for Ohtani and Trout to clash, though the former carry new threads.

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