Dodgers see 'more engaging' Ohtani with Mizuhara gone

ByAlden Gonzalez ESPN logo
Wednesday, March 27, 2024

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ippei Mizuhara wasn't just Shohei Ohtani's interpreter, he was a middleman for coaches and teammates, a facilitator for everything the two-way star needed within a ballpark, not to mention away from one.

Given that, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was asked if he was concerned about Ohtani no longer having a person like Mizuhara in his life.

"Actually, I would argue that it's going to help relationships internally, because there's no longer a buffer," Roberts said Tuesday, prior to the Dodgers' final spring training contest against the crosstown Los Angeles Angels. "I've already seen it. The last couple days, I think Shohei's been even more engaging with his teammates, and I think there's only upside with that."

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 in the wake of media inquiries surrounding at least $4.5 million in wire transfers sent from Ohtani's bank account to a Southern California bookmaking operation that is under federal investigation.

Ohtani's camp initially said Ohtani transferred the funds to cover Mizuhara's gambling debt and presented Mizuhara for an interview with ESPN on Tuesday night, during which he laid out the process in detail. The following day, a statement from Berk Brettler LLP, the law firm representing Ohtani in the matter, instead said the two-way star "has been the victim of massive theft." Mizuhara then told ESPN that Ohtani had no knowledge of his debt and that Ohtani had not transferred the money.

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

Plenty of questions remain unanswered, especially given the drastic change in storylines, but Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman echoed the sentiments of many of his teammates in saying they're "supportive of 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 some more answers and clarity for him to be able to 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 for performance operations, to interpret for Ohtani. Ireton, whom Roberts called a "secret weapon," was initially brought in to interpret for Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda and has been assisting in advance work on the pitching and hitting sides in recent years.

Ireton, however, won't be around as often as Mizuhara, who hardly ever left Ohtani's side. To 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 access Ohtani.

Mizuhara, though, carried out a litany of baseball-related tasks for Ohtani. He helped coordinate his schedules, cued up scouting reports, monitored his workouts, occasionally served as his throwing partner and even put on catcher's equipment and squatted behind home plate when Ohtani took hacks during the Home Run Derby. More importantly, Mizuhara was a key liaison between Ohtani and his coaches, counted on to bridge a major language barrier, even though Ohtani's English has steadily improved in recent years.

Roberts didn't seem concerned about Ohtani no longer having that help.

"I think he's very capable," Roberts said. "He's been around long enough. It's just naturally going to happen, but if he needs assistance or support, he has it."

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