Shohei Ohtani puts interpreter scandal behind him but extends slump in Dodgers' loss

As a reporter noted the considerable amount of conversation dedicated to the scandal surrounding Shohei Ohtani’s ex-interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts cut off the query mid-sentence.

“I know we’ve talked about this a lot…” the question began.

“Yes,” Roberts replied, flatly. “We have.”

After Tuesday, Roberts, Ohtani and the entire Dodgers organization are hoping they won’t have to waste such breath again.

Hours before the Dodgers lost 1-0 to the Pittsburgh Pirates, in yet another quiet day at the plate for the two-way star, Ohtani at least seemed to receive some official closure off the field regarding Mizuhara

On Tuesday afternoon, Mizuhara pleaded guilty in federal court to bank and tax fraud, admitting to stealing nearly $17 million from his former employer and close friend to pay off gambling debts. Shortly after, Major League Baseball announced its investigation into the incident — the last major probe into Ohtani’s involvement in the situation — had been closed, with Ohtani cleared of any wrongdoing.

“Based on the thoroughness of the federal investigation that was made public, the information MLB collected, and the criminal proceeding being resolved without being contested, MLB considers Shohei Ohtani a victim of fraud,” the league said in a statement.

Ohtani declined to answer questions in the PNC Park visitors’ clubhouse before the game, but released a statement earlier in the day.

“It’s time to close this chapter,” it read, “move on and continue to focus on playing and winning ballgames.”

During Roberts’ pregame scrum, the manager echoed the same forward-looking tone.

“It’s a formality, I guess,” Roberts said of Mizuhara’s plea and MLB’s announcement — two developments that had been expected after a federal investigation in April blamed only Mizuhara for wire transfers from Ohtani’s bank account to an alleged illegal bookmaker.

“Honestly, we haven’t been following it,” Roberts added. “So I hope it’s closure. That’d be great if it’s closure. We’ve all been ready to move on.”

In Ohtani’s case, this might be a good time to open a new chapter on the field too.

Entering Tuesday, the slugger had been mired in a two-week slump, batting just .193 over his last 15 games, during which he also dealt with minor back and hamstring ailments. Then, Ohtani epitomized the Dodgers’ continued struggles while going just one for four at the plate Tuesday night.

Ohtani struck out in his first at-bat against flamethrowing Southland native Jared Jones, a second-round draft pick out of La Mirada High who spun six scoreless frames with six strikeouts.

Ohtani’s other at-bats against Jones weren’t much better: a double-play grounder in the third inning and another strikeout in the fifth.

“There’s a little more off-balance swings, but then he’ll square one up,” Roberts said of Ohtani, whose batting average has dropped from .364 on May 15 to .321. “It’s just not as consistent as it had been after the first couple weeks.”

Ohtani did produce a leadoff single in the eighth inning, advancing to third in the Dodgers’ best chance to tie the game.

But his teammates failed to take advantage, one of many missed chances on a night the Dodgers went 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position and saw a couple of late drives from Teoscar Hernández and Chris Taylor die just short of the wall.

“There’s been a couple games where we have a lot of guys on base and we hit the ball right at people,” said Hernández, who also left runners stranded in scoring position in the first and third innings. “It’s part of the season, it’s gonna happen, and it’s happening for us the last week and a half. We just have to keep going, keep working hard.”

Except the Dodgers’ inability to manufacture runs has been a problem for weeks. Over their last 18 games, they have scored more than four runs just five times. And on Tuesday, it contributed to yet another wasted gem from ace Tyler Glasnow, who took the loss despite giving up just Jack Suwinski’s third-inning home run in six innings in Glasnow’s first game back at PNC Park since the Pirates traded him to Tampa Bay in the middle of the 2018 season.

“Baseball is hard,” Glasnow said, careful not to criticize the lack of production. “I mean, beginning of the year, I feel like every time I pitched, it was like [we scored] 10 runs. It just kind of has to even itself out.”

Has it ever. Tuesday marked the fifth straight Glasnow start in which the Dodgers failed to score while he was on the mound. It handed the pitcher a third straight loss, even as he lowered his earned-run average to 2.93.

The Dodgers’ pitching was so solid that they actually outhit the Pirates 5-4; they just had nothing to show for it in the opener of a six-game trip.

And it all served as yet another symptom of the Dodgers’ offensive decline — one that has impacted everyone from Mookie Betts (who went hitless, continuing his own slump), to the bottom of the lineup (which mustered just one hit, a double from Gavin Lux) to their suddenly slumping (albeit scandal-free) $700-million designated hitter.

“Sometimes you can point to Mookie as the straw that stirs the drink. And also Shohei when he’s going well, it seems like our offense takes off,” Roberts said. “Those two guys at the top are a big part of what we do. They’re just kind of not where they need to be right now.”

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