Shohei Ohtani

Roberts feels ‘fortunate' Ohtani, Yamamoto chose Dodgers over Giants

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SAN FRANCISCO – The scene for Game 1 of the Giants’ first home series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2024 MLB season was perfectly set for Monday night. Clear skies opened the way for picturesque views during batting practice. Shohei Ohtani was slotted into the two-hole at DH, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto was on the bump to start a three-game set. 

A problem that cost more than $1 billion also draped over Oracle Park before the fog rolled in.

Ohtani and Yamamoto won’t be greeted to cheers and standing ovations from thousands of Giants fans, but instead a chorus of boos is likely to follow their every move from those sporting the Orange and Black.

“I’m very fortunate, very grateful that they chose the Dodgers, because having those two guys in orange and black would change the landscape,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said two hours before first pitch. “I do think they look better in Dodger Blue.” 

In December, Ohtani and Yamamoto, the two biggest stars of free agency, opted to play elsewhere than San Francisco. First, Ohtani decided to stay in Southern California on a record 10-year, $700 million contract. A few weeks later, his Team Japan World Baseball Classic teammate also agreed to be a Dodger on a 12-year, $325 million deal

Always a bridesmaid, never the bride? Always a groomsman, never a groom? The Giants again came up short in the eyes of a superstar, this time by two who dealt them a bucket of thorns for two red roses dyed blue. 

And the results speak for themself, too. 

The Giants enter this three-game set with their storied rivals fourth in the NL West at 19-23 and haven’t won three consecutive games all season. They’re eight games back of the NL West-leading 27-15 Dodgers, who recently enjoyed a seven-game win streak. 

Yamamoto didn’t last more than one inning in his MLB debut, giving up five earned runs to the San Diego Padres. He has a 1.76 ERA in seven starts since. His eight earned runs allowed in that span are second to only Shota Imanaga of the Chicago Cubs, another Japanese star the Giants missed out on in the offseason. 

“I think the game is slowing down,” Roberts said of Yamamoto. “All the stuff that he wasn’t really familiar with – the surroundings, everything – he’s just more comfortable with everything and just the confidence is just exuding.” 

Ohtani had Sunday off from lower back tightness he sustained the night before. Roberts expects the issue to be completely healed and knows Ohtani is excited for his first experience of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry. 

Serving solely as a hitter as opposed to a two-way phenom for the first time since 2019 after undergoing elbow surgery, Ohtani is having his best season ever at the plate in the majors. Through 40 games, Ohtani leads the bigs in batting average (.352), hits (56), doubles (15), extra-base hits (27), total bases (106), slugging percentage (.667), OPS (1.090) and OPS+ (204). He also has 11 home runs and nine stolen bases. 

Meanwhile, the Giants don’t have a hitter who has more than seven homers this season, and their leader in stolen bases is 26-year-old utility man Tyler Fitzgerald, who has swiped four bags in 21 games.

Ohtani also has played in every major-league ballpark during his seven-year career and is without a hit at two of them: Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, and the Giants’ home field of Oracle Park. Ohtani has gone 0-for-8 with two strikeouts and two walks all-time at Oracle Park.

Roberts was unaware of Ohtani’s struggles at this park in a three-game sample size and is confident the tides will shift in his favor, as they often do for the two-time AL MVP. 

“I didn’t know that,” Robert said. “It’s typically deep out in right-center, the ball doesn’t travel as much. But for him when he’s right, it doesn’t really matter.

“I think that’s going to change this series.” 

It’s hard to argue with that thinking. Giants starting pitcher Jordan Hicks will have the first crack at keeping Ohtani hitless, and manager Bob Melvin kindly will invite some extra help from Bay Area wind – as well as a seagull, a stray garlic fry or Lou Seal himself.

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