Ohtani ties Matsui for most HRs by Japanese-born MLB player

April 13th, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- Growing up in Japan, a baseball-obsessed would sit by his television in awe with what Hideki Matsui was doing on the field at the Major League level. As most kids do, Ohtani one day dreamt of having the same opportunities Matsui had over his 10-year career.

Since then, Ohtani has accomplished most of his goals. He’s one of the most dominant players in the sport, winning two unanimous American League Most Valuable Player Awards, including last season with the Angels.

On Friday, Ohtani checked off another important milestone, launching his 175th career homer in the Dodgers’ 8-7 loss in 11 innings to the Padres at Dodger Stadium, tying him with Matsui for the most by a Japanese-born player in MLB history.

Matsui, who came over to the Majors after an illustrious career in Japan, made 5,066 plate appearances in MLB. Ohtani needed just 2,941 plate appearances in seven seasons to tie him for homers.

“I’m happy personally,” Ohtani said through interpreter Will Ireton. “It’s an honor to be in the same stage as him and obviously, it’s a big deal in the Japanese baseball industry. So I’m going to look forward to the next one.”

Ohtani’s fourth homer of the season also tied Hideo Nomo for second-most homers by a Japanese-born player in Dodgers history. He trails his manager, Dave Roberts, by just three homers.

"I still got a couple days until my record's broken,” Roberts smiled.

With how locked in Ohtani is at the plate, it might not take long for him to set more records. After a slow start, Ohtani has shown the world why he signed a record 10-year, $700 million deal this winter, as he’s been the hottest hitter on the planet over the last week and a half.

After a 3-for-5 performance on Friday, Ohtani is now 16-for-35 with four homers and seven doubles over his last eight games. Ohtani also leads the Majors with 15 extra-base hits this season. That’s tied with Bo Bichette, David Segui, Fred McGriff and Nap Lajoie for the most by a player in the first 16 games with a team since 1901.

“Shohei, he’s doing it, man,” Roberts said. “He’s playing great baseball. He’s got that look in his eye like he wants to be at the plate. He’s just taking really good swings, hitting everything hard. I just marvel at what he’s done each day in his preparation and just the talent is something that’s pretty remarkable.”

The last month hasn’t been the easiest for Ohtani, who had to address his teammates and fans after his former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara was involved in an illegal sports gambling scandal. Ohtani also admitted to having some added stress after some early offensive struggles with his new team.

But since hitting his first homer as a Dodger in his last at-bat during the previous homestand, Ohtani has looked much more like himself. His latest blast had a Statcast-projected distance of 403 feet with an exit velocity of 107.3 mph.

“It’s a credit to him that he’s really unflappable,” Roberts said. “He really is.”

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Ohtani’s homer, along with blasts from Mookie Betts, Teoscar Hernández and Max Muncy, weren’t enough to beat the Padres in extras.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto struggled in the early part of the game, allowing a two-run homer to Manny Machado in the first and a solo homer to Ha-seong Kim in the second. The Japanese right-hander was able to settle down, but he was only able to get through five innings, exposing the bullpen to a longer night.

“He’s still trying to, you know, feel his way,” Roberts said. “It’s only been four starts. So I don’t know why that first couple innings, why the pitch count gets up and he sort of settles in as the game progresses. I will kind of dig in on that. But I don’t know the answer right now.”

Even with a four-run lead, the Padres were able to get to Daniel Hudson and Ryan Brasier in the latter innings and ultimately took the lead against Alex Vesia in the 11th. The Dodgers’ offense, despite putting up another strong output with seven runs, wasted some chances late in the game, particularly in extras.

“We put a lot of runners on base and had a lot of opportunities to score,” Ohtani said. “But just couldn’t pull through. Overall, we put up a good fight.”