Ohtani clubs 1st Dodgers HR: 'Honestly, very relieved'

L.A. wraps sweep of rival Giants, finishes initial homestand 6-1

April 4th, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- When the Dodgers signed this winter, all they could envision was watching him hit mammoth home runs at Dodger Stadium for the next decade.

That reality took longer than Ohtani -- and everyone -- expected, as the two-time unanimous American League Most Valuable Player had been held relatively quiet at the plate through his first 36 at-bats of the season.

On Wednesday, however, the roar of the stadium was deafening as Ohtani’s crack of the bat sent the sold-out crowd into a frenzy. It was finally Sho-time at Dodger Stadium, as Ohtani broke the home run seal by launching a long and loud homer off left-hander Taylor Rogers in the seventh inning of the Dodgers’ 5-4 win over the Giants, completing a three-game sweep and a 6-1 homestand.

Ohtani’s homer off Rogers had an exit velocity of 105.6 mph and it traveled a projected 430 feet. Rogers hadn’t surrendered a homer to a left-handed hitter since May 2021.

“Honestly, very relieved that I was able to hit my first homer,” Ohtani said through interpreter Will Ireton. “It’s been awhile, and honestly my swing hasn’t been great. So, overall very relieved.”

In his first season with the Dodgers after signing a record 10-year, $700 million deal this offseason, Ohtani has gotten off to a slow start at the plate. Ohtani admitted there was a bit of anxiousness with the delayed arrival of his first homer with his new organization.

Understanding the pressure that comes with Ohtani is nearly impossible. He’s the first player in American sports to sign a deal of this magnitude. The natural attention that he attracts is unlike anybody else in the game. Then there was the situation with his former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara that forced him to address something that didn’t involve his craft.

Through all of that, however, the Dodgers have learned a lot about their new superstar.

“You just never learn about a person until they go through some adversity, whether on the field, or in this case, off the field,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “I’ve learned that he’s unflappable. He really is. It might not be the production that we expect and we know is gonna happen. But in terms of his demeanor, the way he comes in every day, he does a good job of separating work from the other stuff.”

On the field, Ohtani said he’s still working through his mechanics, particularly his timing. Now that he’s not pitching this season due to elbow surgery, Ohtani has more time to work on his offense, which isn’t always a good thing for hitters because it opens up opportunities to overthink. It’s an adjustment Ohtani, who has gone through this rehab process before, is still working through.

Roberts also echoed Ohtani’s comments that he’s searching a bit at the plate, but added that he believes it’ll all click for Ohtani once he gets off one of his trademark swings. The long blast into the right-field bleachers certainly qualifies as one of Ohtani’s best swings.

It’s what the Dodgers expect to be the first of many.

“It was nice to see that relief off his shoulders and his face,” said Dodgers shortstop , who hit his second home run of the season in Wednesday's game. “That guy works extremely hard to be a professional and deal with everything every single day. We ask a lot of Shohei, and for us to see him get some success, it’s always important and it’s always nice for us to see him feel comfortable in the clubhouse around the new guys. … Now he can just relax and play baseball.”

Before the homer in the seventh, Ohtani also showed off his speed in the third, beating out an infield single and then sprinting around the bases to score from first on a double that was perfectly played by the Giants’ defense.

“It’s really impressive,” Roberts said of Ohtani’s speed. “He covers a lot of ground really quickly.”

Everything Ohtani accomplishes on the baseball field draws a lot of praise, and that’s coming in a season where he isn’t on the mound contributing as a pitcher. After years of wowing his teammates in Anaheim, the Dodgers -- who welcomed him back to the dugout with a face-full of sunflower seeds, courtesy of -- finally got the full Ohtani experience on Wednesday.

It was well worth the wait.

“Just being able to contribute in a 5-4 game, close game,” Ohtani said. “Obviously it’s not just me, but overall the team was able to put up good offense today. I’m very relieved and happy.”