Shohei Ohtani focused on Angels' playoff run, blocking out talk of future

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Shohei Ohtani stepped outside the Los Angeles Angels' clubhouse and stood against a concrete wall to face a horde of English- and Japanese-speaking media members Friday night, with an ice pack wrapped tightly around his elbow and his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, standing diligently by his side. It resembled the aftermath of every one of his home starts over these past three years, even though the circumstances surrounding it -- trade deadline looming, free agency following, rumors about a potential trade more fervent than ever -- were vastly different.

Ohtani, the Angels' transcendent two-way star, claimed to barely notice.

"That did not cross my mind at all," Ohtani, speaking through Mizuhara, said when asked if he thought about the possibility of this being his final home start in an Angels uniform. "Obviously I'm part of the Angels at this moment. I feel like we're in a decent spot to make a playoff run, so I just try not to really think about that."

Ohtani was tagged for four home runs through 6⅓ innings as a pitcher, but he also reached base four times as a hitter and helped push the Angels to an 8-5 victory over the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Angels, currently without Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, began the week on the heels of a 13-game stretch that included 11 losses. It triggered a precipitous fall in the standings and rampant speculation that Ohtani might get traded ahead of the stretch run of his final season before free agency. But the Angels have since followed with four consecutive victories, including a sweep of the New York Yankees, putting them four games back of the final playoff spot in the American League with 11 days left before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

Angels owner Arte Moreno has previously said he would not trade Ohtani if his team remained in contention, but flirting with the peripheries of it has prompted the type of conjecture that the organization has not gone out of its way to rebuff.

Asked if he has been given any assurances that he would not be traded, from Moreno or Angels general manager Perry Minasian or anyone else, Ohtani said: "I've never really had any talks like that. I see Perry maybe once a week in the clubhouse, and we've never really had any conversations."

The same, Ohtani added, goes for whether he has communicated any thoughts about remaining with the Angels beyond the 2023 season.

"I've never really had a sit-down talk like that," he said. "We're in midseason, obviously, and I'm just trying to focus on the season and sort of block everything else out. Like I said earlier, I feel like we're in a decent spot to make a playoff run, and that's all I'm really focused on at the moment."

Ohtani had been hampered by a cracked fingernail and a blister in his right middle finger over his past four starts, but he and Angels manager Phil Nevin said that wasn't an issue Friday. Ohtani recorded five strikeouts in the first three innings but gave up back-to-back home runs to Ji-Man Choi and Henry Davis in the fourth then a two-run shot to Jack Suwinski in the fifth and another solo homer to Davis in the sixth. Offensively, Ohtani drew three walks, reached after striking out on a wild pitch and scored from first base on a double, exertions that Nevin believes might have led to the runs he gave up as a pitcher.

Sixteen weeks into the 2023 season, Ohtani boasts a 1.076 OPS in 432 plate appearances and a 3.71 ERA in 111⅔ innings. As a hitter, he is tied with Ronald Acuna Jr. for the major league lead with 5.0 FanGraphs wins above replacement. But he has accumulated 1.6 additional fWAR as a pitcher.

When he came to bat in the fifth inning, an Angel Stadium crowd of 40,309 showered him with "MVP" chants.

"I'm very happy to hear those, obviously," Ohtani said. "But at the same time, I feel like I could've performed better and given them a better show."