Ohtani aims for bigger numbers after historic season

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani speaks at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo on Monday.

As he waits to find out if his historic fourth season in the major leagues was enough to earn the Most Valuable Player award, Shohei Ohtani is already looking ahead to putting up bigger numbers next year.

“I want to record numbers on a higher level,” the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way star said at a press conference on Monday at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

Dressed in a gray suit and necktie, the 27-year-old Ohtani, who returned to Japan in late October, talked about an injury-free season that enabled him to shine both on the mound and at the plate, and his expectations for next season.

On his pitching, in which he chalked up a 9-2 record and 156 strikeouts, the right-handed Ohtani said, “The best thing was that I was able to handle the number of innings and number of games.”

Ohtani, who was limited to just two mound appearances over the two previous seasons due to elbow problems, pitched 130⅓ innings over 23 starts in 2021.

As a batter, “First of all, hitting 46 home runs was the top thing,” he said modestly on a prodigious power display that rewrote the home run record by a Japanese player in the major leagues.

Asked which player left the biggest impression on him this season, Ohtani cited right-hander Max Scherzer, who was the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game. Scherzer, who was a member of the Washington Nationals at the time prior to a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, got leadoff hitter Ohtani to ground out in a 1-2-3 first inning.

As for batters, “It’s difficult to pick out one,” Ohtani said, while mentioning American League home run king Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays among others.

Ohtani and Guerrero are among the three finalists for the AL MVP award (Toronto’s Marcus Semien in the other), with the winner to be announced by MLB on Thursday.

That would cap a slew of postseason honors Ohtani has already received for a season unseen since the days of Babe Ruth a century ago.

“It’s something to be thankful for,” Ohtani said with a smile. “I’m happy to earn recognition for what I have done this year.”