The Dodgers' Shohei Ohtani steps up to the plate during...

The Dodgers' Shohei Ohtani steps up to the plate during the first inning of the team's game against the Reds on Saturday in Cincinnati. Credit: AP/Jeff Dean

Shohei Ohtani arrived at Citi Field on Monday afternoon with a different interpreter than the one he had in his visit last August, back when life seemed much simpler for the two-way Japanese megastar and people still were fantasizing about Steve Cohen’s billions potentially luring him to the Mets.

But once Ohtani’s pitching elbow gave out (again) in September and the Mets’ front-office purge eventually bounced general manager Billy Eppler, the executive who first brought him to the Angels, that pretty much ended any chance of the two-time MVP ever calling Flushing home.

As it turned out, the highly anticipated Ohtani sweepstakes was a one-team race (just like the Yoshinobu Yamamoto Derby that followed).  And based on what has transpired since he signed that heavily deferred 10-year, $700 million deal with the Dodgers, he certainly has no regrets.

We shudder to think what the Citi circus would’ve been like if Ohtani had been a member of the Mets when it came out that his now former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, had swiped more than $16 million from Ohtani to pay off his mammoth gambling debts. Not that Hollywood is a small market, but a scandal of that size tends to go nuclear when Flushing is the epicenter. And we can’t imagine the Mets skating away from the debris as seamlessly as the Dodgers apparently have done, along with Ohtani himself.

A Met runs a traffic light and he becomes a punchline for weeks in New York. Even if Ohtani’s worst offense in this whole Mizuhara affair was merely being oblivious to a close friend/colleague regularly draining his bank account, it’s tough to imagine everyone here being so eager to forgive and forget as the Los Angeles crowd.

For now, at least, Ohtani and the Dodgers seemingly have cleansed themselves of the gambling stain, thanks in part to Mizuhara’s express lane plea deal that went down on May 8. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Mizuhara, 39, pled guilty to one count of bank fraud (max sentence: 30 years in federal prison) and one count of subscribing a false tax return (up to another three years).

Mizuhara was arraigned on May 14. Three days later, the L.A. City Council declared May 17 “Shohei Ohtani Day,” a nod to his uniform number, even though his entire Dodgers career spanned 47 games. That was sandwiched between Ohtani’s bobblehead night at Chavez Ravine and his first walk-off hit in Dodger blue, a two-out RBI single in the 10th inning to beat the Reds.

In other words, Ohtani apparently has quickly moved on from the Mizuhara mess. And if there has been any residual personal baggage, it hasn’t shown up in the boxscore. Ohtani heads into Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Mets hitting .336 — tops in the majors — and owns an NL-best 1.024 OPS (Aaron Judge’s 1.039 led MLB going into Monday).

Seeing that he’s indeed the same Shohei Ohtani despite the gambling saga and the dozens of Japanese reporters who chronicle his every breath, I asked him before Monday’s rainout if he was able to get past the Mizuhara episode quickly. Judging by his performance, Ohtani barely has looked fazed by any of it, from the interpreter’s shocking (semi-fabricated) confession during the March opener in Seoul to Mizuhara’s plea earlier this month.

“I think the thing that affected me the most is just being able to sleep well,” Ohtani said Monday through his new interpreter, Will Ireton. “Now that I’ve been able to do that, I also came to realize that how I feel off the field mentally shouldn’t affect my abilities. And I have every confidence in my own ability that I could be able to still play without being affected by anything that happens off the field.”

With that ironclad mindset, maybe Ohtani was cut out for New York after all (although his media duties are far more limited by the Dodgers than they would be here). We’ve seen plenty of athletes, in every sport, get derailed by the Big Apple’s unblinking spotlight. But the numbers don’t lie.

The only nuisance that’s even slightly slowed down Ohtani is a bruised hamstring, which was caused by being hit with a pickoff throw last week. His current 3-for-17 skid (one triple, four strikeouts) counts as a bona fide slump, and the Dodgers limp into Flushing on a five-game losing streak, their longest since 2019.

“It’s getting better day by day,” Ohtani said of his hamstring. “Definitely today’s a lot better than yesterday.”

That’s not great news for the Mets, who would much prefer a diminished Ohtani if there’s any advantage to be gained at all.

The righthander also is making strides toward becoming a two-way threat again in rehabbing from last September’s Tommy John surgery, though he’s not expected to pitch again until next season (he’s up to 60 feet at 80 mph).

“Just progressively increasing the distance and usually anywhere from 60 to 70 pitches at that distance,” Ohtani said. “Just increasing the distance and the pitches and seeing where that goes.”

It’s interesting to note that Ohtani is on pace for his best offensive season during a year in which he’s limited to being a DH. But focusing on hitting rather than also worrying about taking the mound every five days probably has its benefits.

“It’s hard to say at this point,” Ohtani said. “I have to play through the season to see if I could really say that.”

Nothing else seems to bother Ohtani, that’s for sure.


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