Dodgers see “more engaging” Ohtani with Mizuhara gone
Dodgers see “more engaging” Ohtani with Mizuhara gone

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ipei Mizuhara wasn’t just a translator for Shohei Ohtani, he was a go-between for coaches and teammates, a go-to guy for everything the two-way star needed on the field, let alone off it.

That being said, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was asked if he was concerned that Ohtani no longer had someone like Mizuhara in his life.

“I’d actually say it’s going to help the relationship internally because there’s no more buffer,” Roberts said Tuesday, before the Dodgers’ final spring training contest against the city’s Los Angeles Angels. “I already saw it. In the last few days, I think Shohei has been even more engaged with his teammates and I think that can only be a positive thing.”

Mizuhara, who came with Ohtani to the United States more than six years ago and became one of his closest friends, was fired by the Dodgers last Wednesday after media inquiries about at least $4.5 million in wire transfers sent from the bank account of Ohtani to a bookmaking operation in Southern California that is under federal investigation.

Ohtani’s camp initially said Ohtani transferred the funds to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debt and brought Mizuhara up for an interview with ESPN on Tuesday night, during which he detailed the process. The next day, a statement from Berk Brettler LLP, the law firm representing Ohtani in the matter, instead said the two-way star “was the victim of a massive theft.” Mizuhara then told ESPN that Ohtani was unaware of his debt and that Ohtani had not transferred the money.

Ohtani echoed those sentiments during a 12-minute media session Monday, half of which was taken up by translations, in which he called Mizuhara’s original version of events “a complete lie.”

Many questions remain unanswered, especially given the drastic change in storylines, but Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman echoed the sentiments of many of his teammates, saying they “root for Shohei.”

“Obviously, I think it’s good for him to be able to talk about it,” Freeman said Tuesday. “I know he wanted to get more answers and clarity so he could talk to the media. I think that’s good for him, to be able to get that off his chest.”

The Dodgers, at least in the interim, will use Will Ireton, the team’s manager of operations, to translate Ohtani. Ireton, whom Roberts called a “secret weapon,” was originally brought in to translate for Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda and in recent years has helped with preliminary work on the pitching and hitting sides.

However, Ireton will not be around as often as Mizuhara, who has hardly ever left Ohtani’s side. For some on the Dodgers, Mizuhara’s presence felt burdensome, even if that wasn’t his intention. Roberts, with a wry smile, admitted that it was “difficult” to constantly go through Mizuhara to get to Ohtani.

However, Mizuhara performed a number of baseball-related tasks for Ohtani. He helped coordinate his schedules, prepared scouting reports, watched his workouts, was his occasional throwing partner and even donned the catcher’s gear and crouched behind home plate when Ohtani made hacks during the Home Run Derby. More importantly, Mizuhara was a key link between Ohtani and his coaches, who was relied upon to overcome a major language barrier, although Ohtani’s English has steadily improved in recent years.

Roberts didn’t seem concerned that Ohtani no longer had that help.

“I think he’s very capable,” Roberts said. “He’s been around long enough. It’s natural for that to happen, but if he needs help or support, he has it.”

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