Shohei Ohtani finally gives Dodger fans what they’ve been expecting

LOS ANGELES – It was what the Dodgers and their fans, and almost all of Los Angeles and perhaps all of baseball – and, certainly, Shohei Ohtani – had been waiting for.

Through the first six games of the Dodgers’ first home game of 2024, baseball’s unicorn had been strangely silent. In a Dodgers offense that averaged 6.2 runs and had not scored fewer than five runs in a game, the most heralded and expensive acquisition (albeit with deferred money) of the The offseason had been, in the words of manager Dave Roberts, “just a tick” with the bat.

Two at-bats in Wednesday night’s 5-4 win over the rival San Francisco Giants dramatically and permanently changed that narrative.

Ohtani wasn’t great offensively Wednesday night. He just wasn’t keeping up with the rest of a high-powered offense, with a .242 average, .630 OPS, two doubles, no home runs — this, from a guy who hit a 44 leading the way the American League for the Angels. in 135 games last year and 171 over his first six big league seasons – and eight strikeouts in 33 at-bats.

When he used his legs to beat a roller to the right side in the second inning, then scored from first on Will Smith’s double into the left field corner, it was a suggestion. And when he lit a Taylor Rogers sinker in the seventh — a sinker that didn’t sink — and hammered it halfway to the right-field pavilion, it was a 430-foot, 105.6 mph statement to the Dodgers’ opponents: I am here. And now you’re in trouble.

Imagine a batting order already at near-peak efficiency. Now imagine the best player in the world joining the party. Scary enough for you?

“Honestly, I was very relieved that I was able to hit my first home run in a while,” Ohtani said through interpreter Will Ireton. “Honestly, my swing hasn’t been great.”

To be precise, he hadn’t taken the field in 214 days, or since a first-inning home run on Aug. 23 as an Angel against Cincinnati’s Andrew Abbott, in the first game of a doubleheader.

Clearly, a lot has happened since then: the injury that ended his season last September 3, the free agency process that led to him becoming a Dodger, the turmoil that surrounded his rise to highway in the country’s second-largest market (and also attracted the attention of Japanese baseball fans and much of that country’s media).

And more recently there was what one reporter delicately called the “performer situation” in a question to Roberts, the revelations that former performer Ippei Mizuhara owed $4.5 million in gambling debts to an illegal bookmaker and withdrew the money from Ohtani’s bank. account, with or without Ohtani’s permission.

The storm behind these reports has subsided for the moment, but it would be easy to imagine that it had an effect on Ohtani, just enough to destabilize him a little.

“You never know a person until they go through adversity, whether it’s on the field or, in this case, off the field,” Roberts said. “I’ve learned that’s not the case with him – you know, he’s unflappable. He really is. … It may not be the production that we all expect and we know it’s going to happen. But as far as his demeanor, the way he comes in every day, he does a good job of separating work from other things.

Even without this storm, the process of adapting to a new organization, a new club and new teammates as well as the desire to make a good first impression can affect a player’s performance, even slightly, and perhaps create some anxiety, anguish or frustration. . But if that was the case with Ohtani, you’d never see it. Indeed, word around the Dodgers is that he has been open and engaged in the clubhouse and may have had more and better communication with his teammates since the change in interpreters.

And maybe our sky-high expectations don’t take into account the idea that players slump and get off to a slow start. At some point, if someone is good enough, they will show it. Maybe that’s what we got a glimpse of Wednesday night, and what we’re about to see unfold during a six-game trip to Chicago and Minneapolis that begins with a day game Friday at Wrigley Field.

“I’m sure there was some relief there,” Roberts said of that mammoth home run, noting that even before that, Ohtani seemed “very close” to being in sync again, and ” even his failures were simply failures.” At bat before the home run, he hit a sharp liner to left fielder Michael Conforto that left the bat at 93.5 mph.

California Daily Newspapers

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