TOKYO — Everyone in Japan seems to be a fan of Shohei Ohtani, and the buzz even extends to his teammates.

That includes St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar — the first to play for Japan’s national team because of ancestry. His mother, Kumi, was born in Japan.

Nootbaar just joined the squad and barely knows the Los Angeles Angels’ superstar. But he’s been impressed, which is an understatement. Nootbaar was bragging about Ohtani to a small group inside the Tokyo Dome that included former major league and Japan league manager Bobby Valentine.

“He’s just incredible,” Nootbaar said of Ohtani.

Just then, Ohtani came around the corner, gave Nootbaar a quick hug, and then disappeared down a hallway.

“Never seen it. Never seen it before. It’s special,” Nootbaar added. “It’s special.”


To which Valentine replied: “Enjoy it.”

Nootbaar seems to be.

Moments later, in a jam-packed news conference, Nootbaar elaborated even more about Ohtani, who is expected to start for Japan on Thursday against China in their opening game of the World Baseball Classic. And when he’s pulled, he’s expected to be the DH.

Nootbaar has started as the leadoff hitter for Japan in a few practice games and could be there again with his team among the tournament favorites alongside the Dominican Republic and the United States.

The Japanese have a word they use to describe Ohtani — “nitoryu” — which refers to a samurai fighting with two swords. Or more broadly, it mean’s doing two things simultaneously.

That’s Ohtani. He pitches. He’s a power hitter. And his return after a long absence to play in Japan in the WBC is reminiscent of the frenzy around Ichiro Suzuki’s final Major League Baseball games four years ago — also at the Tokyo Dome.


Ohtani couldn’t wait to add to the buzz around him. He hit a pair of three-run home runs on Monday in Osaka in Japan’s exhibition game against the Hanshin Tigers.

•  The 20-team World Baseball Classic got underway after a six-year absence with Panama defeating Taiwan 12-5 for its first win in tournament history and the Netherlands beating Cuba 4-2 as Didi Gregorius drove in the tying run and scored the go-ahead run.

Panama won after going 0-5 in its first two WBC appearances in 2006 and 2009.

Taiwan was down 12-2 in the bottom of the seventh and faced a loss under the 10-run mercy rule after seven innings. But Nien-Ting Wu hit a two-run homer and pushed the game to the full nine innings.

Taiwan got another run in the eighth to make it 12-5.

• Kenley Jansen could still be part of his fourth WBC with the Netherlands team — if it advances to the semifinals in Miami.


“So hopefully we’ll get there to Miami so he can join us from Fort Myers for the final round,” Netherlands Manager Hensley Meulens said before the team began pool play in Taiwan on Wednesday. Second-round games would be played in Japan.

Jansen is in his first spring training with the Boston Red Sox after the long-time closer spent last season with the Atlanta Braves.

“At the time we had to put out the roster on February 7, Kenley was not ready to throw at that time,” Meulens said. “He choose to get in shape first and join us later on if we get there. So we honor that decision. He switched teams, as well, but the last two times, also, he never came over here, so he always joined us in the last round.”

When Jansen first represented the Netherlands in the WBC in 2009, before becoming a full-time pitcher, he was the team’s starting catcher. He threw out speedy Willy Taveras trying to steal third base in the ninth inning when the Netherlands upset the favored Dominican Republic team. He didn’t appear in the 2013 semifinals after being a late addition to the Netherlands roster but did pitch in the 2017 semifinals.

YANKEES: Frankie Montas said his shoulder wasn’t fully healthy when he was acquired by the New York Yankees at the trade deadline last season, but the right-handed starter said he tried to “push through” after joining his new team.

Montas, who went 1-3 with a 6.35 ERA in eight starts last season after being obtained from Oakland, is recovering from shoulder surgery that will keep him from throwing until at least late May.


New York acquired Montas and reliever Lou Trivino from the Athletics on Aug. 1 in exchange for four prospects.

RANGERS:  Two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom is moving closer to his first game action with the Texas Rangers, after bringing some heat to batting practice in Surprise, Arizona.

The Rangers held deGrom out of their first scheduled workout three weeks ago after he reported tightness in his left side. They are still being cautious, but the right-hander has been throwing regularly, and on Wednesday was at 98-99 mph with his fastball. He hit 100 mph on the last of his 35 pitches during the equivalent of two innings during BP.

Manager Bruce Bochy had said before the workout that he felt deGrom had turned a corner in his season preparation.

Texas signed deGrom to a $185 million, five-year contract in December. The 34-year-old deGrom spent the first nine years of his big league career with the New York Mets, but injuries limited him to 156 1/3 innings in 26 starts over the past two seasons.

In the Rangers’ exhibition game at Arizona, starter Jon Gray threw three scoreless innings, five days after being a late scratch from his scheduled start because of back tightness. The right-hander is going into the second year of a $56 million, four-year deal.

PHILLIES: Gregory Soto, the hard-throwing lefty reliever the Philadelphia Phillies acquired in a January trade with Detroit, finally reported Wednesday to Tigers camp in Clearwater, Florida.

Soto had missed the first three weeks of camp while dealing with visa issues at home in the Dominican Republic. Because of the delay getting to spring training, Soto won’t be going to the WBC. He had been throwing at the Phillies’ academy in the Dominican Republic.

The two-time All-Star had 30 saves and a 3.28 ERA in 64 appearances for the Tigers last season. His fastball averaged 98.7 mph, leading major league left-handers.

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