Dodger Details: Shohei Ohtani out at home, the lineup’s streak and more

MINNEAPOLIS — From the jump, the decision required no hesitation. A one-run game. Two outs. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ fastest runner, Shohei Ohtani, racing from first base and barrelling around third on the hardest-hit ball Freddie Freeman has hit all season.

“You gotta send him,” third-base coach Dino Ebel said. The situation had played out ideally, down to the bounce in the right-field corner at Target Field that slowed how quickly the Twins’ Alex Kirilloff could get to the ball in right field.

Only Kirilloff recovered, wheeling around and firing the ball back to the infield. Carlos Correa uncorked a devilish throw, and after a replay review, it was clear that catcher Christian Vázquez had supplied a pristine tag.

“That’s as clean as it gets,” Ebel said.

“Just a really good baseball play,” added manager Dave Roberts.

And it was the best chance the Dodgers had of capping off their first official road trip with a flourish, rather than a 3-2 loss Wednesday.

For a hair under 11 seconds, every detail mattered. The Dodgers’ powerful offense had slowed to a creep, waiting for their prestigious upper-third of the lineup to generate life. And when it came in the form of Freeman’s 109.3 mph line drive, the Dodgers were eager to force the issue. Ohtani’s speed is an asset the organization hopes to use more, and the two-way star made it from first base to home plate in 10.89 seconds. Less than half a second earlier — or if Correa’s throw hadn’t registered at 92.2 mph — and Ohtani might have been in.

“Unfortunately, we were on the wrong end of that one,” Roberts said of the squashed seventh-inning rally.

So with one bang-bang play, and secondary offerings that just wouldn’t cooperate for Bobby Miller and Alex Vesia, the Dodgers settled for a .500 road trip. Through 15 games, they are 10-5, a 108-win pace. This glittering roster has come as advertised. Their holes remain as clear as when they boarded their flight to South Korea nearly a month ago.

It took just two pitches Wednesday for Mookie Betts to keep the streak going, and just three more hitters until he came across to score. The Dodgers have assembled a triumvirate of MVPs who each can carry a lineup on their own, who play essentially every day and who wreak havoc on opposing pitchers.

Betts, Ohtani and Freeman have started each of the Dodgers’ first 15 games this season and in each, at least one of them has recorded a hit.

Betts’ single up the middle on a Chris Paddack fastball prolonged a stretch that might not end anytime soon.

“I think that could go on for months,” Roberts said. “Because hitters hit. And you’re talking about essentially 15 at-bats in a particular game. … It’s hard to imagine they’d go 0 for 15.”

First, it was Betts who carried the torch. Next, it was Ohtani’s hard-hitting, cricket bat-aided offensive explosion (which included another single Wednesday that was merely struck at 104.3 mph. Freeman might be the most frustrated .333 hitter of all-time right now, voicing frustration about his swing dating back to spring training yet still producing at his steady rate.

Then there’s Will Smith, fresh off signing a 10-year extension with a 21-for-51 start (.412), quietly serving as the ideal fit behind them.

“There’s no dropoff with Will,” Roberts said. “You have to hit all types of pitchers. And he covers all parts of the zone, all pitches. He has to have plate discipline, value the walk and have the bat-to-ball. So every box for a guy to bat fourth, to drive in runs and hit behind those guys, he checks them.”

The dropoff after Smith is a different concern. The Dodgers have gotten some production out of those spots — Max Muncy has clubbed a pair of home runs in the early action, Teoscar Hernández has driven in 15 runs, and James Outman has gotten going some with homers in consecutive games in Minnesota. Yet the difference remains stark.







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Most concerning is the level of swing-and-miss, which certainly fits the historic offensive profiles of guys like Outman and Chris Taylor (1-for-27 with 14 strikeouts to start the year) but remains a problem.

“I don’t feel good about conceding the fact that they’re just going to go up there and swing-and-miss, certain guys,” Roberts said. “I do just want to see good at-bats.”

Alex Vesia didn’t touch 90 mph until after his freshman year in college. Didn’t have a pitching coach until he was in pro ball. As one of just four big leaguers to matriculate through Cal State East Bay, his path to this point was forged on the back of something imperceptible to the naked eye; hitters couldn’t touch his fastball.

Everything played off of it. And by 2022, that fastball was sitting in the mid-90s and touching 96 mph. He went from a small college to an integral role in one of the best bullpens in the sport that year.

His role now is a lonely one. Outside of swingman Ryan Yarbrough, Vesia is the sole left-handed reliever in the Dodgers’ bullpen after offseason deals sent Caleb Ferguson, Victor González and Bryan Hudson elsewhere. (Another trade sent non-roster invite T.J. McFarland to Oakland). Only one other lefty, Nick Ramirez, resides on the 40-man roster.

Which makes his struggles over the past two seasons all the more noteworthy. His fastball velocity is down a full tick from a year ago. His feel for his slider and his changeup has eluded him for much of that time, and so he’s relied on heat more than ever.

Fastballs made up a whopping 77.2 percent of his usage entering Wednesday. When he misfired on a first-pitch slider to Minnesota’s Edouard Julien before leaving a fastball over the plate. Julien didn’t miss, driving it the other way and clear over the fence for the second home run Vesia had allowed in two nights

“I’ve been going over different mechanics and pitches and stuff,” Vesia said. “Today I missed my spot, and he got me.”

Both homers came on fastballs.

“You just can’t pitch with just your fastball,” Vesia said. “If you look at this outing, they didn’t have to honor the breaking ball. So if you can’t make them honor your breaking ball, they can sell out and that’s clearly what they were doing.”

(Photo of Shohei Ohtani: Matt Krohn / USA Today)

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