Shohei Ohtani hits 2-run homer in first exhibition game with Los Angeles Dodgers – Metro US

Shohei Ohtani hits 2-run homer in first exhibition game with Los Angeles Dodgers

White Sox Dodgers Spring Baseball
Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani runs the bases after hitting a home run during the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Chicago White Sox in Phoenix, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. Jose Ramos also scored. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Shohei Ohtani needed just three exhibition at-bats to show what a $700 million man can do for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Japanese star hit a two-run homer in his first game wearing Dodger blue on Tuesday, working a full count in the fifth inning before an opposite-field shot off Dominic Leone that just cleared the left-field wall.

“Definitely felt good at the plate, felt better each time,” Ohtani said through a translator. “We’re trending in the right direction.”

Ohtani was hitless in his first two plate appearances, striking out on four pitches in the first inning and hitting a hard grounder into a double play in the third.

The two-time Most Valuable Player received a standing ovation before his first at-bat at Camelback Ranch, where dozens of fans wore his No. 17 jersey and cheered his every move. The Dodgers — already one of MLB’s premier franchises — have become even more popular after spending more than $1 billion to sign Ohtani and fellow Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

“With Shohei — I’m starting to learn really quickly — he’s built differently,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He took some really good swings.”

Yamamoto is expected to make his spring training debut on Wednesday.

Ohtani’s first full swing on Tuesday wasn’t exactly one of the memories. He missed the ball, his helmet tumbled off his head and it took a few seconds to gather himself before returning to the batter’s box.

But he corrected that momentary awkwardness in a hurry, showing the power that’s helped him hit 124 homers over the past three seasons. The crowd roared when Ohtani connected and the cheers grew louder as the ball slowly drifted over the left-field wall.

“I thought I hit it a little too high, but maybe the Arizona weather factored in a little,” Ohtani said.

Ohtani was in the second spot of the lineup against the Chicago White Sox, sandwiched between leadoff hitter Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman.

Roberts said all three stars were receptive to the Betts-Ohtani-Freeman lineup construction. The manager added that having Ohtani at the No. 2 spot wasn’t “set in stone,” but it’s something he wants to try for a while during spring training.

“I feel that having Shohei hitting in front of Freddie gives Shohei a lot of protection,” Roberts said.

It was Ohtani’s first spring training game since signing a record $700 million, 10-year contract — and first since right elbow surgery in September that will keep the two-time MVP from pitching this year. He was the designated hitter, a role he’s expected to fill all season.

The 29-year-old is further along in his recovery than Los Angeles said it anticipated, and the team hopes he will be available when the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres play a two-game series in Seoul, South Korea, on March 20 and 21 to start the regular season.

“Most importantly is his health,” Roberts told reporters this week. “So if it lines up, great. And if it doesn’t, then we’ll still move on from there.”

NOTES: Right-hander Walker Buehler faced batters during his throwing session on Tuesday. The two-time All-Star missed the 2023 season after his second Tommy John surgery in August 2022.

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