After waiting six years to play in the World Baseball Classic, Shohei Ohtani had a debut worthy of MLB pitching and batting prowess Thursday.
The Los Angeles Angels star, who missed the 2017 classic due to an ankle injury, worked four scoreless innings, struck out five and allowed a hit while blasting a big two-run double among his two hits and walking twice in Japan's 8-1 rout of China in their Pool B opener.
"I imagine that this was the most difficult day for him," said Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama, who was Ohtani's only pro manager for his five seasons in Japan.
"He traveled so far to get here, but I feel so happy for him. I watched him carefully after he came off the mound, and he was just playing baseball with joy. I'm happy everyone could see what he did."
Although he left the mound with only a 3-0 lead, his presence seems huge within the team, and teammates Lars Nootbaar and Shugo Maki both said they find themselves keeping an eye on him.
"I think we all watch him," Nootbaar said. "We do it out of respect."
Maki said fielding behind Ohtani for the first time gave him some nerves at second base.
"We never get to see him play, so I was extremely nervous in the first inning because it was so emotional," Maki said. "It was just so exciting."
Ohtani, Japan beat China 8-1 in WBC opener
World Baseball Classic Japan player profiles