Shohei Ohtani Could Be More Open with Teammates without ‘Buffer’ Mizuhara, Dodgers Manager Says

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani walks into the dugout after grounding out as Max Muncy puts on his gloves during the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels Monday, March 25, 2024, in Los Angeles.

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Shohei Ohtani’s life will be fundamentally different in the coming weeks and months without Ippei Mizuhara, his interpreter and constant companion ever since he moved to the majors from Japan.

Although the changes caused by Mizuhara’s firing amid allegations of gambling and theft could be jarring to a baseball star who thrives on routine, the Los Angeles Dodgers are optimistic the upheaval could have a positive impact on Ohtani’s connection with his teammates and the game.

“Actually, I would argue that it’s going to help relations internally,” manager Dave Roberts said Tuesday before the Dodgers’ final exhibition game. “Because there’s no longer a buffer. I think that I’ve already seen it the last couple of days. I think Shohei has been even more engaging with his teammates, and I think there’s only upside with that.”

Ohtani spent thousands of hours at Angel Stadium over the previous six years with Mizuhara, who helped Ohtani to communicate with the Angels’ coaches and players on everything from strategic advice and rehabilitation plans to video game trash-talk.

The Dodgers’ new slugger returned to his old home in Anaheim on Tuesday without Mizuhara, who was fired last week by the Dodgers after acknowledging a gambling problem and being accused of stealing millions from Ohtani.

Will Ireton will be Ohtani’s interpreter going forward, but the versatile Dodgers employee won’t be as inseparable from Ohtani as Mizuhara was.

Mizuhara shadowed Ohtani everywhere while they were with the Angels — in the training room, on the mound during pitching coach visits, even onto the field during bench-clearing brawls. They also spent ample time together away from the ballpark.

Ohtani already made another major life change in the offseason when he got married, and he’s now beginning the process of moving forward without his daily connection to English speakers.

Teammates and opponents alike have said over the years that Ohtani understands plenty of English, but doesn’t always feel comfortable speaking it — just like many second-language learners. Roberts said he already sees Ohtani making an effort to move outside his comfort zone in the past few days.

“I think that we’re all going to be surprised how much English he knows, and I think that’s a good thing,” Roberts said.

Ohtani addressed the separation from Mizuhara on Monday before the Dodgers faced the Angels in Los Angeles. The slugger emphatically denied ever betting on sports or paying off Mizuhara’s profligate gambling losses, instead saying Mizuhara stole the money to send to an illegal bookie.

Dodgers players and coaches were pleased by the detail and candor with which Ohtani addressed the situation, Roberts said.

“I think (Monday) was a big day, and we’re all looking forward to moving forward,” Roberts said. “But I do think it’s an opportunity for us to really support him from everywhere.”

Ireton is the Dodgers’ manager of performance operations, and has been with the team since he first worked with Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda in 2016.

Born in Tokyo before attending high school and college in the U.S., Ireton has filled several roles in the Dodgers’ game preparation over the years. He also helped with the Dodgers’ successful winter pursuits of both Ohtani and right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

Roberts is grateful to have a capable, trusted member of the staff to take over for Mizuhara.

“Will is a secret weapon,” Roberts said. “I’m telling you, this guy is as selfless a person as you’re going to find. He does stuff as far as the advance stuff with the hitting. On the pitching side, it’s some advance stuff. Obviously with the Yamamoto stuff, the Ohtani stuff this past winter, he was a big helper in that, and then obviously now, being an interpreter. So Will, he’s a Swiss Army knife. He does everything for us.”