Ohtani goes deep! Shohei thrills in Dodgers spring debut

February 27th, 2024

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It didn’t feel like any other Spring Training day. There were cameras at every turn, a larger-than-usual media contingency, and a palpable buzz inside the clubhouse and around Camelback Ranch.

With every pitch, the crowd’s anticipation kept growing. It was the first time they were getting a chance to watch , who signed a record 10-year, $700 million deal this winter, in a Dodgers uniform.

Ohtani made sure that wait was all worth it, as the two-time unanimous American League Most Valuable Player hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning of his first Cactus League game of 2024, a 9-6 Dodgers victory over the White Sox on Tuesday.

“It was definitely a big first step,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “The big thing for me was that I was able to finish off the game without any problems.”

Ohtani was hitting second in the Dodgers' lineup, which is where he’ll hit this season. In his first at-bat since undergoing a second major right elbow surgery last September, Ohtani swung through the second pitch he saw -- a Garrett Crochet heater -- knocking his helmet off his head.

After fouling off the next pitch, Ohtani ended up striking out looking on a 100 mph heater.

In his second at-bat, Ohtani came out swinging against right-hander Justin Anderson. Unfortunately for him and the Dodgers, however, Ohtani rolled over to second baseman Nicky Lopez, who started a 4-6-3 double play.

Finally, in his last at-bat of the game, Ohtani gave the fans a show. Facing Dominic Leone, he once again swung at the first pitch, fouling it off. He then took a few pitches to get ahead in the count, 2-1. Ohtani took a big hack on the fourth pitch of the at-bat, but swung right through it. Two pitches later, Ohtani hit a towering opposite-field homer, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

“I definitely feel good at the plate and felt better each time I got up, so it’s trending in the right direction,” Ohtani said. “I thought I hit it a little too high initially, but maybe it was the Arizona factor that factored in.”

Over the last three weeks, Ohtani has given the Dodgers plenty of optimism that he will be the team’s designated hitter by the time they travel to Seoul, South Korea, to open the season with a two-game series against the Padres on March 20.

In his first on-field batting practice of the spring, Ohtani hit 10 homers in 21 swings. He followed that up by hitting 10 more dingers in 29 swings his second time going through the drill. In his first live batting practice session, Ohtani once again wowed the crowd with a homer off Dodgers right-hander J.P. Feyereisen.

Ohtani’s progression has been impressive at every turn. He also mentioned to the Japanese media contingent that he has been carrying around an outfielder glove, just in case the Dodgers need him there at some point this season. That possibility is highly unlikely, but it is representative of how healthy Ohtani feels heading into the season.

“I don’t see that happening,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “We’ve constructed our roster with the fact that we have plenty of outfield depth and to have him be our DH -- until I hear otherwise, the only focus for me is to have him DH.”

Tuesday also gave the Dodgers a glimpse of the anticipation and attention that will follow them around throughout the season. It didn’t seem to phase Ohtani, however, as he continued to do what he does best on the field.

“His first game for the Dodgers playing against another competition and he homers,” Roberts said. “I just have a good feeling that there’s more to come.”