April 13, 2024

A video tribute to Shohei Ohtani began playing on the Angel Stadium scoreboards in the top of the first inning Tuesday night as the Dodgers slugger walked to the plate for the first time as a visitor in his old home.

A two-time American League most valuable player during his six-year stint with the Angels, Ohtani doffed his batting helmet in appreciation of the warm reception before bowing to fans on the third-base and first-base sides of the stadium.

Then the mighty Shohei struck out swinging through a 96-mph Chase Silseth fastball, the start of a two-whiff night that capped a rough three-game exhibition series against his former club, which the Angels closed with a 4-3 walkoff win on Tuesday night.

Zach Neto tripled to left field with two out in the bottom of the ninth and scored the winning run on Jack Lopez’s RBI single to left-center.

Ohtani went hitless in six at-bats with three strikeouts and two walks in the three games, which were sandwiched between last week’s season-opening two-game set against the San Diego Padres in South Korea and Thursday’s home opener against the St. Louis Cardinals.

In Ohtani’s defense, the $700-million man has been a bit preoccupied this past week, dealing with the fallout from a gambling scandal that led to the firing of his longtime interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, whom Ohtani accused of stealing a reported $4.5 million from him to pay off debts allegedly owed to an illegal Orange County bookmaker.

Ohtani’s new teammates have raved about his ability to block out distractions in his preparation for games and performance, but they’ll need him to regain that laser focus and snap out of his mini-funk when they resume the regular season.

“The last week, he’s kind of missing some barrels, but when we were in South Korea, I thought he swung the bat really well,” manager Dave Roberts said. “These last three games, he just hasn’t synced up, but I’m sure he’ll be ready to go on Thursday.”

Ohtani’s bat wasn’t the team’s only concern on a night the Dodgers got solo home runs from Freddie Freeman and Will Smith in the fourth inning and Gavin Lux in the sixth. So was Mookie Betts’ glove.

Roberts was noncommittal when asked before Tuesday’s game how often he would insert Miguel Rojas as a late-game defensive replacement at shortstop, a move that would push Betts from shortstop to second base and Lux from second base to the bench.

“You know what? It’s certainly an option,” Roberts said. “I’m going to keep a close eye on it, but from what I’ve seen in this short period of time, Mookie is continuing to feel more comfortable at short, and Gavin has continued to feel more comfortable at second.

“So if I feel that there doesn’t need to be a late-game defensive change, I won’t make it. But if something tells me I need to insert Miguel Rojas and kind of move some pieces around, I can do that too.”

Then the bottom of the fourth inning happened. Betts, who switched positions with Lux on March 8 because of Lux’s early-spring throwing woes, couldn’t backhand a Brandon Drury grounder to the hole that was ruled a single.

“The play in the six-hole is the toughest play,” Roberts said. “So I think getting in a position to get to his arm on balls to his right has probably been the biggest challenge.”

After a Nolan Schanuel walk, Betts bobbled a Miguel Sano grounder and threw late to first for an error to load the bases. Dodgers left-hander James Paxton struck out Logan O’Hoppe with a 79-mph curve for the second out. Betts then bobbled a Neto grounder but recovered in time to throw to first to end the inning.

“I think it’s just one of those things where he’s got to continue to get repetitions,” Roberts said. “Ball to his right, ball to his left … there are a lot of plays that he hasn’t seen yet that he’s going to see and have different chances. I’m just glad it happened now, and he’s only going to get better with repetitions.”

Paxton, who did not accompany the team to South Korea and hadn’t started an exhibition game since March 7, gave up three runs and four hits in five innings, striking out two, walking two and throwing 80 pitches.

He gave up a two-run double to Drury in the first and a solo homer to Sano, who was informed before the game that he had made the Angels’ opening-day roster, in the second but retired the side in order in the third and fifth innings.

Silseth looked sharp in his final spring tuneup, giving up two runs and two hits in five innings, striking out 10 and walking none in his 93-pitch effort.

Dodgers pitching prospect Jared Karros, the son of former Dodgers infielder and current team broadcaster Eric Karros, gave up one hit and struck out four in a scoreless seventh and eighth innings.

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