Baseball: Ohtani's mentor Kuriyama to step down as Fighters manager

© Kyodo News

Nippon Ham Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama, who orchestrated Shohei Ohtani's development as a two-way star, and won the most games in franchise history, announced Saturday that he will step down at the end of the season.

Kuriyama, 60, steered the Fighters to his first Pacific League pennant in his 2012 managing debut, and won the league and Japan Series in 2016, when Ohtani was voted PL MVP in his fourth pro season.

In April, Kuriyama won his 632nd game, surpassing former skipper Keiji Osawa for the most wins in franchise history. This season, however, the Fighters have been mired in last place and on Friday were eliminated from playoff contention for the third straight year.

The club allowed ace pitcher Kohei Arihara to move to the American major leagues over the winter, and then gave away troubled cleanup hitter Sho Nakata after he was suspended for assaulting a teammate during the summer.

An unheralded former outfielder during his playing career, Kuriyama became a media analyst and university professor after leaving the game and was named Fighters manager for 2012 despite his lack of managing experience.

His tenure with the Sapporo-based club was marked by his willingness to innovate. In addition to shepherding Ohtani's development as a two-way player, Kuriyama was the first Japanese manager to embrace analytics-driven radical infield shifts.