Dave Roberts' comments hint Ippei Mizuhara firing may have helped Ohtani, Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers v Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Dodgers v Los Angeles Angels / Katharine Lotze/GettyImages

Shohei Ohtani and the Dodgers would probably love to erase the events of the past week from our collective memories. It may feel like it's been a lot longer, but only a week has passed since ESPN's bombshell report that revealed Ohtani interpreter Ippei Mizuhara's massive gambling debt and conflicting accounts about Ohtani's knowledge of and involvement in the situation. New information has been dropping regularly since the initial article, and the cascade of internet hot takes have immediately followed to cloud everything even further.

Ohtani broke his silence on Monday afternoon, reading from a 12-minute prepared statement to reaffirm his innocence and insist that he had been lied to. Immediately afterward, he took to the field at Dodger Stadium to throw publicly for the first time since his elbow surgery last year.

An MLB investigation is underway, but neither the league nor the Dodgers have any intention to bench him as of now, so he played in all three Freeway Series games earlier this week and will continue through the regular season until further notice. Despite the specter clouding every move he makes, Ohtani is back to playing baseball and back to staying characteristically silent on the matter any further.

At the beginning of spring training, Dave Roberts said that reporters could direct all questions about Ohtani to teammate Jason Heyward, who flatly responded that they should direct their Shohei questions to Shohei. It was a joke, but there was a certain amount of truth to it. Ohtani has been flanked by a protective barrier of PR and communications staffers since he came to MLB, and it's only intensified with this scandal.

So that does leave the rest of the Dodgers to answer questions about Ohtani, because Ohtani either will not or cannot answer them himself. Freddie Freeman was asked about the situation this week, and he replied simply that it was a "personal issue" for Ohtani. Roberts, as a manager with a certain level of spokesperson duties written in his job description, has also both fielded questions and offered some insight we would never get from Ohtani.

On Mizuhara's firing and departure from the clubhouse, per Fabian Ardaya, Roberts said, "removing Mizuhara from the picture '(is) gonna help relations internally'" (subscription required).

According to Dave Roberts, Ippei Mizuhara's firing removes a 'buffer' between Shohei Ohtani and Dodgers

Roberts expounded: "There’s no longer a buffer, where I think that … I’ve already seen it. The last couple of days I think Shohei has been even more engaging with his teammates, and I think there’s only upside with that." He also said that it had been "difficult" communicating with Ohtani through Mizuhara.

This opens up an entirely new realm for the imagination to wander into. The level of Mizuhara's involvement in Ohtani's life — personal, financial, and so on — has been in question since last Wednesday, and any allusion to Mizuhara complicating or muddling the relationship between Ohtani and his teams would naturally benefit the line Ohtani and his camp are maintaining: that he was completely oblivious to Mizuhara's dealings despite the massive amount of money that was allegedly stolen from him.

On the face of things, Ohtani communicating effectively with fellow players and other members in the organization is a very good thing. Even with Dodgers manager of performance operations Will Ireton filling in as his interim translator, Ohtani has also reportedly been using more English in the clubhouse.

Roberts' comments about Mizuhara certainly add some more color to this situation and will inform how we view both sides of the story going forward.