'Didn't really feel too weird.' Shohei Ohtani goes hitless vs. former Angels teammates

Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) greets Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) before a spring training baseball game in Phoenix, Tuesday, March 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Shohei Ohtani exchanged handshakes and hugs in the outfield with former teammates and coaches before Tuesday night’s Cactus League game at Camelback Ranch, and he posed arm-in-arm with Angels star Mike Trout for a picture that was viewed by 2.4 million people on X (formerly Twitter) by the end of the game.

The new Dodgers designated hitter then went hitless with two strikeouts in three at-bats in a 4-0 exhibition loss to the team he spent his first six big league seasons with before signing his historic 10-year, $700-million contract with the Dodgers in December.

A relatively sparse, midweek, night-game crowd was on hand for Ohtani’s first action against his former club, giving the reunion the feel of a typical exhibition game for the Dodgers slugger. But Ohtani knows the emotions will probably flow more freely when the Dodgers play a Freeway Series exhibition game in Angel Stadium on March 26 and a two-game regular-season series in front of a packed stadium in Anaheim on Sept. 3-4.

“I didn’t really feel too weird or uncomfortable, because it kind of is what it is,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “If I was playing at the Angels’ home [stadium], it might have been a little different story.”

A number of Angels regulars, including Trout, Taylor Ward, Brandon Drury, Logan O’Hoppe, Zach Neto and Matt Thaiss, made the trip from Tempe. Ohtani, the American League most valuable player in 2021 and 2023, said none expressed any hard feelings toward the two-way star for leaving.

“A lot of the boys were here today, so I got to catch up with most of them,” Ohtani said. “They didn’t really give me a hard time. It was more a lot of congratulations. They’re happy for me.”

Ohtani will be relegated to hitting this season while he recovers from last September’s Tommy John surgery, the second ligament-replacement procedure of the right-hander’s career.

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Ohtani has not begun a throwing program in his recovery from elbow surgery, but the hitting part of his rehabilitation “is over officially,” he said. “Now, I just need to get more at-bats, have quality at-bats, be able to see the ball and get my timing down.”

Ohtani had reached base in seven straight plate appearances before striking out swinging on a 95-mph fastball from Angels right-hander Chase Silseth in the first inning and looking at a 94-mph fastball for strike three against left-hander Tyler Thomas in the third. Ohtani flied out to center against Guillermo Zunig in the fifth.

Manager Dave Roberts said Tuesday afternoon that Ohtani would take Wednesday off and play Thursday night, but Ohtani said he planned to play Wednesday, a day game after a night game.

“Just looking at the whole schedule and the whole balance, I felt it was a good time to go back-to-back,” Ohtani said. “That’s another target I need to get to.”

Roberts has now spent a solid month of spring training with Ohtani, and he continues to marvel at the two-way star’s work ethic and attention to detail in the training room, the batting cage and on the practice field. And that’s with Ohtani focusing only on hitting.

“I think you hear things, but until you see it on a day-to-day basis, it's hard to kind of really wrap your head around,” Roberts said. “He’s a really focused worker. You hear that, but seeing it in real speed, it's really fascinating to see how methodical he is, how regimented he is.

“To see how fast his body moves when he turns and rotates is pretty amazing. But we had a chicken-wing eating contest and he was there, present. In my morning meetings, he's right there, present, laughing along with everyone. So he's much more engaging than I probably would've expected.”

Has the media’s limited access to Ohtani created an illusion of him being more standoffish or isolated than he really is?

“Um … maybe,” Roberts said. “That might be the case, but that’s a hard one to answer. All I know is that with us, when he's working and he's in the clubhouse talking to his teammates, it's been great.”

The Dodgers’ media contingent has swelled this season to include some 20-30 Japanese reporters who cover Ohtani on a daily basis, but they are not only here to follow Ohtani's every move.

They are also here to cover Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who signed the biggest contract ever awarded to a pitcher — 12 years and $325 million — before throwing a big league pitch.

“It does feel different,” Roberts said, when asked how the coverage of this team compares to star-studded clubs of the past. “I think you've brought in, to be quite honest, an entire country, essentially another continent. You've brought in two superstars from Japan.

Read more: Dodgers' Yoshinobu Yamamoto says tipping pitches 'not really a big concern' for him

“So with the media, I mean, it's two to three times what we've ever had. And I think it's just great for our game. They’re tremendous athletes and great men, so it's certainly much different than we've ever seen.”

Rehab report

Walker Buehler, the erstwhile ace who is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, is not expected to be activated until May at the earliest, but Roberts said the “hope” is the right-hander will make one Cactus League start before the team breaks camp.

Emmet Sheehan, who went 4-1 with a 4.92 ERA in 13 games as a rookie last season, has been slowed by a sore shoulder and won’t pitch in Cactus League games, opening the door for Gavin Stone or Ryan Yarbrough to win rotation spots. Sheehan, who was shut down for a week, has resumed throwing, but there is no timetable for his return.

Short hops

Dodgers right-hander Bobby Miller looked sharp in his scoreless three-inning start Tuesday night, giving up two hits, striking out one and walking one. Relievers Blake Treinen and Evan Phillips threw scoreless innings for the Dodgers. … Max Muncy left the game after getting hit in the knee by a pitch in the sixth inning, but Roberts says he was OK and expected to play Wednesday. ... The Dodgers acquired 25-year-old utility infielder Andre Lipcius from the Detroit Tigers for cash considerations and added him to their 40-man roster. A third-round pick of the Tigers out of Tennessee in 2019, Lipcius hit .266 with 38 homers, 88 doubles and 212 RBIs in four minor league seasons. He appeared in 13 games for Detroit last season, hitting .286 with a homer and a double. … Backup catcher Austin Barnes was scratched from Tuesday night’s game because of back tightness, but the injury is not believed to be serious.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.