Shohei Ohtani, who turned baseball convention on its head in 2018 as MLB’s first two-way star in almost a century, has returned triumphantly to Japan, where on Thursday he met a throng of hundreds of reporters and photographers and reflected on his AL Rookie of the Year season.
Ohtani spoke in the same room in Tokyo in which a little over a year ago he announced that he was headed to the United States and MLB.
“When I came here a year ago, I was determined to perform as well as I could,” Ohtani said (via the Japan Times). “It’s been one year since then and I think I was able to have a satisfactory and enjoyable season. After the season, I felt it was a good year, and I have a lot of things to build upon for next year.”
At the plate, Ohtani, 24, batted .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers and 61 RBIs in 367 plate appearances in 82 games as a DH. On the mound, he was 4-2 in 10 starts with a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings.
How good of a year was that exactly?
He became the first player since Babe Ruth in 1919 to pitch more than 50 innings and hit more than 15 homers in the same season.
“I get compared to him often, but to me he’s like something from a myth,” Ohtani said of Ruth. “His presence is so surreal, I can’t really grasp it. I know of the numbers he had, but considering where I am as a player, I’m not in a position to think about him yet.
“Hopefully I can get closer to him year by year, but right now, I can’t honestly think about it too much.”
Ohtani’s two-way play ended in early September, when an MRI exam revealed damage to his ulnar collateral ligament in his right (pitching) elbow. The same day doctors recommended Tommy John surgery, Ohtani went 4-for-4 with two home runs.
His season as a pitcher was over, but he continued to DH. He underwent the elbow surgery Oct. 1 and isn’t expected to pitch in the majors again until the 2020 season.
“I was a little reluctant to have surgery on my elbow and I thought it would be better if I could avoid it,” Ohtani said. “But looking at the long term, I thought it’d be best to be fully healthy and able to perform at my best on the mound. That’s when I thought the surgery was necessary.”
The recovery, thus far, has been smooth (“I haven’t had any problems”), but it has offered him plenty of time to think about his future (“I need to keep evolving”).
For now, back in Japan, Ohtani will continue with his rehab and recovery — and maybe take it easy a little.
“I want to eat delicious sushi,” he said of his plans in Japan. “I don’t really have anything else I want to do. Right now, I need to focus on my rehab, whether I’m in America or Japan.”