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Ohtani says he feels settled off the field and at the plate. He even spilled a secret hitting drill

 The Associated Press  |    Apr 8th, 2024 7:29pm EDT

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — There’s a sideshow at every ballpark Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Dodgers visit, with the two-time MVP and two-continent superstar playing on a $700 million contract and under investigation by Major League Baseball for his former interpreter’s alleged involvement in illegal gambling.

True to his determined approach and private nature, Ohtani still seems to be settling in.

“Regardless of whatever happens off the field, my ability to continue to play baseball hasn’t changed. It’s my job to make sure that I play to the best of my abilities,” he said through his new interpreter, Will Ireton, before the game at Minnesota on Monday.

Ohtani whose recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery is preventing him from pitching this season, has granted few interviews since signing with the Dodgers. His latest session, conducted in a hallway outside the visiting clubhouse at Target Field with dozens of cameras and reporters from Japan and the U.S. packed in a half-circle around him, was revealing only for his consistently calm presence in the crowd.

Asked how he’s been handling the absence of his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, after his close friend was fired for an alleged theft from Ohtani’s accounts to cover illegal gambling losses and a connection to a bookmaker under IRS investigation, the Japanese sensation said he’s doing just fine.

“It’s only been a couple weeks since then, and it’s not like I’ve been doing much aside from just being at the hotel or at home. I’m just really grateful and thankful that the team and the personnel has supported me throughout this process,” Ohtani said.

Ohtani did let the public in on one secret: He’s been using a cricket-style bat behind the scenes to help his hitting mechanics.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who has encouraged Ohtani to strengthen his relationship with his teammates without Mizuhara in the picture, said the unique equipment looks like a cricket paddle and has a handle like a baseball bat. The goal is to use the flat barrel to practice staying longer in the hitting zone, Roberts said, and Ohtani “took a liking” to the suggestion by hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc.

The regimen has been revealing to the team, too.

“Each day we’re learning more. Each day he’s becoming more and more comfortable,” Roberts said. “He’s laughing a ton. He’s asking questions.”

Ohtani said he picked up the cricket bat on Sunday after his first two at-bats in Chicago.

“It led to pretty good results,” he said. “I’ll continue to do that.”

Smart move. After hitting two doubles and a homer in the 4-2 win over the Twins to start this three-game series, Ohtani is a staggering 11 for 22 with eight extra-base hits and five RBIs in his last five games.

Going deep in Los Angeles on Wednesday was a catalyst too.

“Yes, I do believe just getting the first one out of the way really helped mentally,” Ohtani said. “It just allows me to free up a little bit more.”

Even his arm is feeling more free these days.

Ohtani said his rehabilitation program has been “going according to plan” with slight and incremental increases in throwing intensity. He played catch on Sunday. And the surgically repaired ulnar collateral ligament sure hasn’t cost him any power at the plate.

“With super athletes I’ve learned just don’t be surprised anymore,” Roberts said. “Shohei’s just a different athlete. He really is. And those kinds of special athletes, they recover faster, they recover better, and he’s just in that rare class.”

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