Shohei Ohtani finding comfort zone with scandal (mostly) behind him. Watch out, MLB teams.

WASHINGTON – Shohei Ohtani was a dominant, charismatic player before he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Yet in the month since he got ensnared in a theft and gambling scandal allegedly perpetrated by his former interpreter, Ohtani has brought connection to a higher level.

Connection, as in destroying the baseball with almost every swing, ranking in the 98th to 100th percentile in the six most important indexes measured by Statcast, including a 95.1 mph average exit velocity.

And connection, as in, utilizing his resources around him – teammates, coaches and support staff in his new home at Dodger Stadium.

Although this late-April sample is still small, the results have been startling: Ohtani is batting .371 with six home runs, getting on base at a .433 clip, hitting the ball harder with greater frequency – 61.7% – than anyone in baseball.

Wednesday night, he destroyed baseball after baseball against the Washington Nationals, doubling three times - with exit velocities of 115.6, 105.7 and 101.9 mph - and proving again that in 2024, he's virtually impossible to pitch to.

"He's in a class by himself," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after the laser display.

Whether it’s at all a matter of heightening his focus after interpreter and personal assistant Ippei Mizuhara admitted to taking money from Ohtani – Mizuhara was ultimately charged with felony bank fraud – is virtually unknowable.

But the Dodgers and Ohtani – who discussed his scalding start before Wednesday's game – are liking what they’re seeing since the Mizuhara affair broke loose in South Korea on March 20.

“I see him more. Before, you just see him when he gets in the batter’s box,” says Roberts. “He’s around a lot more, which is a good thing, too.

“I think he’s doing a good job with everyone.”

For Ohtani, 29, Mizuhara was not just an interpreter but a consigliere of sorts, confidant and general fixer. Ultimately, Ohtani let him get a little too much control of his personal affairs.

Perhaps Ohtani is appreciating a more compartmentalized existence.

When asked what was different since Mizuhara was fired by the Dodgers, Ohtani deadpanned: “The new interpreter is probably really good. Excellent,” he said of Will Ireton, as interpreted (apparently accurately) by Ireton himself.

On the real, Ohtani said the ongoing IRS investigation prevented greater candor.

“But,” he said Wednesday, “it’s made me really realize how supportive the teammates, the organization, the staff has been toward me. It’s allowed me to reflect on how grateful I am to be surrounded by them.”

It’s clear the comfort level is high. Ohtani works easily through the Dodgers clubhouse, his command of English seeming even better than during his six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels.

He playfully knocks helmets with first base coach Clayton McCullough after singles, twists his body like Freddie Freeman to celebrate doubles, and, on Tuesday night returned to a dugout filled with teammates awestruck by his 118.7 mph home run.

Shohei Ohtani's first season with the Dodgers is going pretty well: He entered Wednesday leading the league in hits, batting average and OPS.
Shohei Ohtani's first season with the Dodgers is going pretty well: He entered Wednesday leading the league in hits, batting average and OPS.

It was the hardest-hit homer of his career, even if the 450 feet it traveled wasn’t the farthest. And it was emblematic of how Ohtani has fulfilled the wishes of Roberts and hitting coaches Robert Van Scoyoc and Aaron Bates.

Roberts huddled with Ohtani last week and wanted him to be more selective, to not expand when pitchers attacked him with runners on base. The hitting coaches offered mechanical tweaks.

It’s everyone else that’s had to duck.

“With Shohei, it’s not just the slug, it’s so much as how hard he consistently hits the baseball,” says Roberts. “I can’t imagine a player hitting it that often, that hard, that consistently. That’s what’s remarkable to me.

“Even in years past, I’d see him get infield hits, but everything he hits, it seems it’s 110 off the bat. Versus left, versus right. From where he was a year ago to now is truly remarkable.”

Indeed, his average exit velocity has ticked up from a career high of 94.4 mph one year ago. Whether he can maintain this 95.1 mph clip all year is an open question, but anecdotally, he’s not to be doubted.

At this point, Ohtani seems virtually unattackable at the plate.

“To be able to cover the top down, and then front to back, and slug – he’s in a class by himself,” says Roberts. “To hit a fastball at the top of the zone which he can cover and ride out a breaking ball down below as he turns really quickly, and has the ability to ride a ball out, that’s the two ends of the spectrum I can’t wrap my head around.”

As if to prove Roberts' pregame point, Ohtani dismantled another baseball in his first at-bat Wednesday night, scorching a double to right center field that registered 115.6 mph off the bat, following up his hardest-hit ball in the majors this year a night earlier.

Quick study?

“It was more about really being proactive,” Ohtani says of his recent adjustments, “so that it allows me to have quality at-bats moving forward.”

Quality might be the understatement of the year.

“He just stays connected,” says Roberts, speaking of Ohtani’s moving parts as he hunts a pitch and uncurls his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame.

Increasingly, that describes his presence around the Dodgers, too.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How Shohei Ohtani found comfort zone with Dodgers in wake of scandal