By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
MIAMI (AP) — That matchup between Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in the World Baseball Classic may not happen.
Japan rallied in the ninth inning to beat Mexico and advance to Tuesday night’s championship game against the United States, but Shota Imanaga will start on the mound for the Samurai Warriors.
If Trout is to bat against his Los Angeles Angels teammate, it would only be if Ohtani makes a rare relief appearance.
Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama said he likely will use the same starting lineup as he did in the semifinal Monday night against Mexico, when Ohtani batted third as the designated hitter and doubled to start the ninth-inning comeback.
Asked before the game what chance Ohtani had of pitching Tuesday, Kuriyama replied through a translator: “I won’t say it’s a zero.”
While Ohtani has never relieved since joining the Angels for the 2018 season, he came out of the bullpen twice for the Pacific League’s Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2013 and once in 2016.
“I’ll definitely be prepared to pitch wherever, but before that I am going to have to hit, so make sure I put some runs on the board before I get to pitch,” Ohtani said through a translator.
Ohtani last took the mound on March 16 in a 9-3 quarterfinal victory over Italy in Tokyo, starting and pitching shutout ball into the fifth inning. He allowed two runs and four hits with five strikeouts and a walk, throwing 71 pitches.
Trout, a three-time AL MVP, has been a Los Angeles Angels teammate of Ohtani’s since 2018 and like most everyone has watched Ohtani become a two-way star without precedent — Babe Ruth didn’t put up big offensive totals until his pitching days were largely behind.
Ahead of the WBC, Trout pondered what it would be like to hit against Ohtani, the 2021 AL MVP.
“I get a front-row seat every time he pitches when he’s with us, so it’s pretty nasty,” Trout said. “And every person I talk to that faces him says they don’t want to be in the box. So it’s going to be interesting. I’m looking forward to it. He’s one of my good friends, so it’s going to be fun.”
Merrill Kelly starts for the U.S., which will be the visiting team. The Americans had a day off following their 14-2 semifinal rout of Cuba.
Ohtani is hitting .450 with one home run, four doubles, nine walks and eight RBIs during the WBC. He is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings on the mound.
Trout is hitting .318 with one homer, seven RBIs, five walks and nine strikeouts in 22 at-bats.
“Obviously, Trout versus Ohtani, I think that’s special,” Japan center fielder Lars Nootbaar said. “I think it’s good that Japan versus the U.S. is going to be in the finals. And personally, I’ve got some friends and got some teammates over there, too, so it makes it even more special and more exciting.”
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