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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Sarah Valenzuela

Shohei Ohtani’s mentor from Japan ‘relieved’ Angels star is excelling in majors

ANAHEIM, Calif. —The day before last month’s All-Star Game, Shohei Ohtani said he wanted to play in next March’s World Baseball Classic and was under the impression that the Angels would let him. And on Friday, before the team’s 4-0 home loss to the Minnesota Twins, one of Ohtani’s mentors stopped by for that very reason.

Hideki Kuriyama — who was Ohtani’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters manager and is the manager of the Japanese national baseball team, called Samurai Japan — has been on a nationwide tour to meet with potential Major League Baseball players who could compete for Japan’s WBC team.

Kuriyama had not spoken to Ohtani about the WBC by the time he addressed reporters before the Angels’ game and did not have an answer as to whether Ohtani would play for Japan.

He was asked to reflect on the Ohtani he coached compared with the reigning American League most valuable player he is today.

“I worked with him for five years and sent him here believing he could do this,” Kuriyama said in Japanese. “As a person who was entrusted by his parents, more than being or feeling happy, I feel relieved that he’s performing like this in the majors.

“He was the kind of player who could perform on the world stage, and we took him in out of high school. I would’ve felt responsible had it not gone well here. I think I’ll be happy once he’s done with baseball.”

Ohtani went to the Fighters out of high school after Kuriyama and the team convinced him to develop further in Japan rather than try to go through MLB’s minor league system. Ohtani initially wanted to go to MLB out of high school.

Kuriyama also was one of the people who believed Ohtani could become a two-way star instead of just being a pitcher.

“In Japan, to make sure we didn’t break his body, we gave him days off after he pitched,” Kuriyama said when asked about the difference in Ohtani then and now. “The fact that he can play in this many games, I’m sure from here he’ll be on five days’ rest. That’s different from Japan.”

Kuriyama felt the pressure of helping Ohtani grow.

“When Shohei decided to come to the Fighters, I was happy for about three seconds,” Kuriyama said with a laugh. “The responsibility of handling a treasure is enormous. So I was relieved when he left.”

Today, he is not surprised by Ohtani’s success.

“In Japan, he cleared challenges that people thought were impossible,” Kuriyama said. “How high can he clear? No one viewed his ceiling as high as I did. Even now, I think he can do more.”

—Updates on Mike Trout, other injured Angels

The Angels’ season has gone off the rails for several reasons.

Among them are the freak injuries that have hindered the team at just about every step of the way. From Mike Trout’s uncommon back injury to Anthony Rendon’s wrist injury, the list is long.

Here’s how three of the Angels with the strangest injuries have been doing in their recoveries.

Trout, who in July was diagnosed with costovertebral dysfunction at T5 — a joint at the thoracic section of his back, where a rib connects to his spine — has continued to make progress in his return.

The slugger said Friday that aside from starting to hit off a tee, he has been able to play catch in the batting cages and will start to hit on the field Saturday.

“Everything feels good,” Trout said.

Added athletic trainer Mike Frostad of Trout’s progress, “It’s going smoothly.”

There is still no timeline for the star center fielder’s return and no plan for whether he will need a rehabilitation assignment, but Trout said he hopes to return “sooner rather than later.”

Frostad also said there is no plan for whether Trout will need extra rest days when he comes back, but if he believes he needs some, then the team would grant them.

Trout’s injury was considered uncommon because it occurs mostly in athletes who play contact sports, though overuse of that joint, like from swinging a bat too much, also could be a factor.

Rendon, a third baseman, saw his season end early again in June because of a partially dislocated wrist tendon. The injury first surfaced during an at-bat May 8. He had season-ending surgery to repair the tendon — which he tried to delay by playing through the pain and discomfort.

On Friday, before the Angels’ game, Rendon was taking ground balls on the field. Frostad said he had been cleared to do so and that “he’s looking forward to getting back to doing that at least.”

The hope is he will be finished rehabilitating from the surgery by the winter so he can have a normal offseason before the next spring training.

Relief pitcher Archie Bradley fractured his elbow falling over the dugout railing trying to get to the brawl with the Seattle Mariners in late June. The injury required a minimum four-week shutdown from throwing.

There is cautious optimism Bradley might return this season, but there isn’t a certainty he will. Frostad said Bradley could start throwing next week but added “whether or not that gives us enough time (to get him back) is still up in the air. … He’s still a little ways away.”

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