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Shohei Ohtani hits 2-run homer in first exhibition game with Los Angeles Dodgers

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Shohei Ohtani needed just three exhibition at-bats to show what a $700 million man can do for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Japanese star hit a two-run homer in his first game wearing Dodger blue on Tuesday, working a full count in the fifth inning before an opposite-field shot off Dominic Leone that just cleared the left-field wall.

Ohtani was hitless in his first two plate appearances, striking out on four pitches in the first inning and hitting a hard grounder into a double play in the third.

Ohtani received a standing ovation before his first at-bat at Camelback Ranch, where dozens of fans wore Ohtani's No. 17 jersey and cheered his every move. The Dodgers — already one of MLB's premier franchises — have become even more popular after spending more than $1 billion to sign Ohtani and fellow Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

“Just seeing Shohei in the lineup makes us a lot better,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before the game. “There's been a lot of anticipation, so we're excited.”

Yamamoto is expected to make his spring training debut on Wednesday.

Ohtani’s first full swing in a game for the Los Angeles Dodgers wasn’t exactly one of the memories. He missed the ball, his helmet tumbled off his head and it took a few seconds for the Japanese star to gather himself before returning to the batter’s box.

But he corrected that momentary awkwardness in a hurry, showing the power that made him a 44-homer man last season. The crowd roared when Ohtani connected and the cheers grew louder as the ball slowly drifted over the left-field wall.

Ohtani was in the second spot of the lineup against the Chicago White Sox, sandwiched between leadoff hitter Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman.

Roberts said all three stars were receptive to the Betts-Ohtani-Freeman lineup construction. The manager added that having Ohtani at the No. 2 spot wasn't “set in stone,” but it's something he wants to try for a while during spring training.

“I feel that having Shohei hitting in front of Freddie gives Shohei a lot of protection,” Roberts said.

It was Ohtani's first spring training game since signing a record $700 million, 10-year contract during the offseason — and since right elbow surgery in September that will keep the two-time MVP from pitching this year. He was the designated hitter, a role he's expected to fill all season.

Ohtani has looked sharp in practice this spring and took live batting practice on Sunday.

The 29-year-old Ohtani is further along in his recovery than Los Angeles anticipated, and the team hopes he will be available when the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres play a two-game series in Seoul, South Korea, on March 20 and 21 to start the regular season.

“Most importantly is his health,” Roberts told reporters this week. "So if it lines up, great. And if it doesn’t, then we’ll still move on from there.”

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

David Brandt, The Associated Press