White Sox get 1st look at Shohei Ohtani — who homers in his spring debut for Dodgers

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Chicago White Sox pitcher Garrett Crochet faced Shohei Ohtani twice during the 2021 season, striking out the superstar both times.

There was a little extra attention — much more than a typical Cactus League game — when the two squared off Tuesday at Camelback Ranch.

It was Ohtani’s first at-bat in a spring training game after agreeing to a record 10-year, $700 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in early December.

“The crowd was loud, so we were both feeling the benefit of that,” Crochet said.

Batting second in the bottom of the first, Ohtani checked his swing on Crochet’s first offering for a ball. Ohtani swung hard and missed the second pitch, with his helmet falling off. He fouled off the next pitch and then Crochet froze him for strike three.

“Just made some good pitches,” Crochet said.

It was all part of an eventful day in front of a crowd of 6,678 at Camelback Ranch, where the Sox lost 9-6.

Ohtani was in the Dodgers lineup a few months after he underwent elbow surgery — a procedure that will keep the two-way All-Star off the mound until 2025.

He went 1 for 3 as the designated hitter Tuesday. He grounded into a 4-6-3 double play against former Los Angeles Angels teammate Justin Anderson in the third but sent a spark throughout the park in the fifth with an opposite-field, two-run homer against Dominic Leone — another former teammate.

“It was definitely a big first step,” Ohtani told reporters through an interpreter. “The big thing for me was that I was able to finish off the game without any problems. I definitely feel good at the plate and felt better each time I got up, so it’s trending in the right direction.”

The excitement built well before the first pitch. Photographers gathered near the third-base dugout more than 40 minutes before the game, awaiting Ohtani’s arrival. Fans, two deep, lined up close to the left-field fence.

There was a huge cheer as his name was announced over the public address system.

Crochet said his focus in the moment was “just playing catch.” Sox manager Pedro Grifol said before the game the buzz for a game like Tuesday’s is “always good.”

“It pumps up the guys,” he said. “But we’ve got to go out there and accomplish our objectives for the day.”

Anderson, Leone, pitcher Jesse Chavez, catcher Max Stassi, infielder Mike Moustakas and outfielder Brett Phillips are among those in Sox camp who played Tuesday and were teammates with Ohtani on the Angels. New hitting coach Marcus Thames held the same role with the Angels last season. And new bullpen coach Matt Wise was the Angels pitching coach the previous three seasons after serving as their bullpen coach in 2020.

Phillips, a nonroster invitee who is competing for an outfield spot, played 39 games with the Angels last season.

“That was a wild experience,” Phillips told the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday morning. “Everywhere we went, people showed up.”

He said the buzz around Ohtani is “great for the game.”

“It’s growing the game,” Phillips said. “It’s growing the love and the excitement for the game.”

Ohtani has historically hit well against the Sox in the regular season, with a .318/.393/.798 slash line in 35 career games. His 16 homers against the Sox are his fourth-most against any team, and he also has six doubles, four triples and 35 RBIs against them.

Ohtani was locked in against the Sox in 2023 on the way to winning his second American League MVP award. He hit seven of his 44 home runs against them — the most against any team — and slashed .440/.548/1.360 with 10 RBIs in seven games.

The Sox haven’t had much success against him on the mound either. Ohtani has a 2-0 record against them with a 1.08 ERA in three career starts. He has allowed 11 hits, walked eight and struck out 28 in 16 2/3 innings.

He pitched against the Sox once last season, allowing one run on four hits while striking out 10 in 6 1/3 innings on June 27 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif. He also homered twice in that game.

That was his second time hitting two homers against the Sox during the 2023 season. The first came May 31 at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Fans rose to their feet Tuesday as Ohtani made his way to the plate for the first-inning at-bat. There was a mad scramble on the third-base concourse for the ball he fouled off against Crochet. The Sox left-hander finished off the at-bat one pitch later with the strikeout.

“He’s a good player, you have to make good pitches,” Crochet said. “We faced each other a couple times in the past, so I have an idea of what he’s looking for. He’s a power threat. Just trying to get ahead early and stay ahead.”

Crochet completed his task. And a few innings later, Ohtani displayed his ability to make the most of a moment with the majestic home run as the crowd got to see a little bit of everything.

“I definitely felt the energy of the crowd and the fans,” Ohtani said. “I really appreciate it.”