Midway through his first season as a Dodger, Shohei Ohtani is a Hollywood blockbuster

CHICAGO (AP) — Halfway through his first season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Shohei Ohtani looks quite comfortable with his new surroundings.

The Japanese slugger has been a sweet-swinging Hollywood blockbuster so far.

The Dodgers are on top of the NL West with a 50-31 record, and Ohtani has played a major role in their strong start. The two-time AL MVP is batting a career-high .320 with 24 homers, 60 RBIs and a 1.032 OPS in 78 games.

“It’s really about getting to know the guys,” Ohtani said Tuesday night through an interpreter. “You know I had my first impression, but really getting to know who the people are and the organization.

“As I stated before, I decided to sign with this team and wanted to do the best that I can to fit in. So I think overall, looking back, it’s been a really good first half.”

Ohtani, who turns 30 on July 5, agreed to a record-shattering $700 million, 10-year contract in December. The two-way sensation isn’t pitching this year while he recovers from elbow surgery, and it looks as if putting more of his focus on hitting is helping him at the plate.

“The reality is the workload has been a lot less,” Ohtani said. “So I can’t deny that. But at the same time, as a hitter, I’ve been getting better and overall I think I’ve been growing as a hitter, too.”

Ohtani hit a leadoff homer during Tuesday night’s 4-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox, extending his RBI streak to a career-high nine consecutive games — matching a franchise record. He walked and scored in the third inning, and then hit a tiebreaking RBI single in the fourth.

Ohtani moved into the leadoff spot after Mookie Betts was sidelined by a broken left hand. He is batting .419 (13 for 31) with five homers and 14 RBIs in eight games since Betts got hurt.

“I don’t know what more we can really say about him,” Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “I think we’ve said everything we can since he entered this league, about what an amazing player he is. But when you come over here, you just never know how first year’s going to go on any team.

“Sometimes you just got to step back and just appreciate a player like this.”

Ohtani drove a hanging curveball from Chris Flexen into the visitor’s bullpen in right-center for his NL-best 24th homer. White Sox right fielder Tommy Pham tried to make a leaping grab on the play, but was unable to bring it in.

Ohtani got so caught up in tracking the ball that he carried his bat as he jogged up the line. After discarding his lumber, he went back to touch first base because he was concerned that he missed the bag the first time around.

“Just wasn’t quite sure that I stepped on the bag,” he said.

It was Ohtani’s second leadoff homer of the season and No. 8 for his career. He is the first player to drive in at least one run in nine consecutive games for the Dodgers since Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella in 1955.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Ohtani is being more selective at the plate, and it’s paying off.

“When you do that, you earn pitches in the strike zone, and when he does that, a lot of special things happen,” Roberts said.


AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

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