Shohei Ohtani launches first homer in Dodgers spring debut

February 27, 2024, 5:39 PM

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was far from a sellout crowd, but those who attended Shohei Ohtani's spring debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday were rewarded in his final at-bat as Ohtani launched a two-run home run into the left-field stands, earning the loudest cheers of the day.

Ohtani's blast came in the bottom of the fifth on a 3-2 pitch from  Chicago White Sox right-hander  Dominic Leone. He finished 1-for-3, striking out and grounding into a double play in his two other at-bats.

"I thought I hit it a little too high initially, but the Arizona weather factored in a little bit," Ohtani said afterward through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. "I felt better each time I came up. It's trending in the right direction."

Batting second in the Dodgers' order behind Mookie Betts and ahead of Freddie Freeman, Ohtani struck out looking against lefty Garrett Crochet in his first at-bat, then hit a hard double-play ball to second base in the third inning before going deep in the fifth.

"With Shohei -- I'm starting to learn really quickly -- he's built differently," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "He took some really good swings."

The reigning AL MVP, Ohtani was playing his first game since undergoing right elbow surgery last September and his first since signing a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Dodgers in December.

Fans lined up along the third-base line as he walked toward the field beforehand, then snapped pictures when he came out on deck. His home run brought the 6,678 in attendance to their feet.

"I definitely felt the energy of the crowd and the fans," he said. "I really appreciate it. I'm really happy I was able to make it back on time and play in front of the fans."

Ohtani won't pitch this season, but home runs like the one he hit Tuesday will certainly be enough entertainment for the Dodgers faithful.

He was asked if he thinks he'll see more pitches in the strike zone hitting in front of Freeman.

"I definitely think it's going to help," Ohtani said. "It's not just Freddie, it's Mookie and a bunch of good hitters behind Freddie."

Ohtani said he didn't have any nerves in his first game since surgery or with his new team. He said he is simply focused on getting ready for the season as the Dodgers' DH.

"Definitely a big first step," he said.