One of the many delights of the World Baseball Classic is that it often provides matchups that otherwise would go unseen. From an American perspective, often those are between players who are longtime teammates in Major League Baseball. To wit, the most intriguing "forbidden fruit" matchup this WBC was the possibility of Shohei Ohtani pitching to Mike Trout, his Los Angeles Angels teammate, as part of a potential late-stage contest between Japan and Team USA.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like said matchup will be on the table -- and that isn't just because Team USA's blowout loss to Mexico on Sunday harmed their chances of advancing beyond pool play. Rather, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reported on Sunday that the plan for Ohtani involves him returning to the Angels for an exhibition start on March 24. Said start would put him in line to take the ball on March 30, MLB's Opening Day.
"That's what I've understood," Angels manager Phil Nevin told Fletcher. "He'll pitch the quarterfinal game, then he'd be available for us that Friday (March 24) when they come back, regardless of what happens. Friday was the day he wanted to throw to get ready for Oakland."
Ohtani, for his part, seemed unaware of the plan when he was asked about Nevin's comments. "No, we haven't spoken at all, so nothing's decided yet," he told reporters in Japan.
Japan won Pool B in dominating fashion, winning all four contests and by an average of more than seven runs. They'll next play on March 16, when they take on Italy, the runner-up in Pool A. Another win would send Japan to the semifinals, where they'd suit up again on March 20. Alas, Ohtani would be unable to pitch in that game (or in the championship final) without compromising the aforementioned plan to have him start on March 24.
It's possible that plans change, but given the significance MLB teams place on their own seasons, and given the loaded nature of Japan's rotation -- they also have Yu Darvish, Roki Sasaki, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto -- the odds appear to be very much against Ohtani pitching to Trout this March.
Now, with that established, we feel obligated to note that the dream might not be done for that matchup happening sometime this year. After all, the Angels are scheduled to play the New York Mets (but not the Los Angeles Dodgers) in August, well after the trade deadline. Should the Angels fall out of contention by late July, it's at least possible that Ohtani and Trout will find themselves clashing, albeit with the former wearing new threads.