BuzzLuv !

How Shohei Ohtani’s hitting is coming around for the Dodgers


For much of a three-hour rain delay at Wrigley Field on Sunday, Dodgers hitters gathered in the warmth of the stadium’s recently renovated indoor hitting cages.

At one point during the elongated stoppage, one of the newest members of the team decided to try something a little different to work on his swing.

Having gone hitless in his first two at-bats before the fourth-inning delay, Shohei Ohtani dug into the Dodgers so-called “toy bag” of atypical training equipment — a collection of tennis rackets and ball launchers and “all kinds of stuff,” hitting coach Aaron Bates said, the team keeps around to help vary the daily routines of players.

Ohtani’s tool of choice Sunday: a modified cricket bat with a baseball handle attached to the end.

To the amusement of his new coaches and teammates, Ohtani took hacks with the flat, rectangular paddle; teeing off against against elevated pitches from an automatic throwing machine.

“I guess he’s kind of divulging some secrets,” manager Dave Roberts said with a laugh Monday, upon being informed that his typically secretive $700 million slugger had spilled the beans on his rain-delay routine in an afternoon scrum with reporters.

“He and Robert [Van Scoyoc, the Dodgers’ other hitting coach] were working with it,” Roberts said. “Shohei took a liking to it.”

Based on the way Ohtani has played lately, the same can seemingly be said about the two-way star’s comfort level with his new team.

When Ohtani hit his first home run as a Dodger last Wednesday, Roberts suspected it might snap the superstar out of his underwhelming start to the season, in which he went eight for 33 with no home runs in his first eight games.

“He’s very close,” Roberts said then. “I expect this to continue.”

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani hits a double against the Minnesota Twins on Monday.

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani hits a double against the Minnesota Twins on Monday.

(Abbie Parr / Associated Press)

Nine hits, four doubles, one triple, four RBIs and two more home runs from Ohtani four games later, the manager is now sure of it.

“When he’s controlling the strike zone and getting pitches in his nitro zone, there’s just really not a better hitter,” Roberts said after watching Ohtani raise his batting average from .270 to .345 in less than a week. “With super athletes, I’ve learned you just don’t become surprised any more. And Shohei is just a different athlete. He really is.”

It’s hardly a surprise development from a player with two MVP awards and the largest contract in sports history. Even during his opening-week lull, when Ohtani was working through timing issues and refining his mechanics, Roberts said the club was expecting to see rapid progression from him on offense.

“He’s just so talented,” Roberts said a week ago. “The hits, the slug, all that stuff will happen.”

In the week since, however, it is Ohtani’s confident — yet light-hearted — demeanor that has resonated behind the scenes.

Roberts noticed a change as soon as Ohtani returned to the dugout after his first home run, taking note of the 29-year-old’s soft smile as teammate Teoscar Hernández showered him with sunflower seeds.

“You could see it as sunflower seeds were hitting his face,” Roberts joked. “I could see the relief in his eyes, yeah.”

Ohtani himself offered a similar assessment of the moment Monday, saying in Japanese that he feels a renewed “ease” in the batter’s box.

Sunday’s cricket bat routine provided another insightful moment of levity.

There were some legitimate reasons for Ohtani to take such swings.

“In theory,” Roberts explained, “it’s supposed to help you have a flat bat, keep your bat in the hitting zone longer.”

Ohtani said it forced him to “swing your body more” to contact the ball with such a flat surface.

“I thought it was a good practice tool,” he said.

Still, with the entire team feeling “delirious at that point” of the delay, according to Bates, “I think it was more so just a light-hearted thing,” the hitting coach said.

Comedic intentions or not, it only seemed to help once the game resumed. Ohtani finished the day with a triple in the seventh inning and double in the ninth, his fourth straight game with multiple hits.

“He got some hits yesterday, so then it works, I guess,” Bates joked.

“I’m thinking about doing it again today,” Ohtani laughed before Monday’s game, in which he added two more doubles and his third home run of the season.

Such whimsical vignettes provide a stark contrast to Ohtani’s early days with the team, when the gambling and theft scandal surrounding him and his ex-interpreter Ippei Mizuhara dominated headlines during both a season-opening trip to South Korea and the club’s domestic home opener a week later.

Now, though, Ohtani has appeared to find a more relaxed headspace — expressing his gratitude for the support he has received from the Dodgers in Mizuhara’s absence, while downplaying the impact any of the off-the-field distractions have made.

“I think each day we’re learning more [about him],” Roberts said. “He’s becoming more comfortable. He’s laughing a ton. He’s asking questions.”

All that, plus a sudden, scintillating — and, just maybe, sunflower-seed and cricket-bat-aided — breakthrough at the plate.


Source link

Leave a Comment

Discover more from BuzzLuv !

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading