Shohei Ohtani hits two homers as Dodgers sweep the Braves

Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (17) celebrates with Mookie Betts (50) and Freddie Freeman (5) after hitting a home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves in Los Angeles, Sunday, May 5, 2024. Betts also scored. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Dave Roberts seemed a little conflicted before Sunday’s series finale against the Atlanta Braves in Dodger Stadium.

The manager didn’t want to put too much emphasis on an early-May series against a potential playoff opponent, saying, “I just want to win as many games as we can,” but as he sized up a “great” trip in which the Dodgers won seven of nine games and a homestand that began with two wins over the Braves, he changed his tune.

“It’s time to get greedy,” Roberts said, “so, yeah, we’re trying to sweep them.”

The gluttonous Dodgers did just that, riding a strong start by left-hander James Paxton, a pair of bookend home runs by Shohei Ohtani and a two-run shot by Teoscar Hernández to a 5-1 victory that completed a three-game sweep of the Braves before a crowd of 52,733.

"It was Cinco de Mayo, it was sold out, the fans were great … it was good to see our guys play to the level and energy that the fans had this whole series,” Roberts said. “It helps when Shohei hits a two-run homer [in the first inning Sunday] to get us on the board. That kind of set the tone.”

Ohtani also put an exclamation mark on the sweep by demolishing a first-pitch fastball from reliever A.J. Minter in the eighth inning, sending a 464-foot homer to center field — his longest of the season — to give him 17 career multi-homer games and push the Dodgers’ lead to 5-1.

“I think I have to hit the ball twice to get there,” infielder Miguel Rojas said. “That’s definitely next-level stuff. It’s pretty special having a guy like Shohei in the lineup, a guy who can do those kinds of things.”

Ohtani’s 10th homer of the season cleared the blue tarp that covers a section of seats in the left-field pavilion just to the left of the center-field plaza.

“No, no,” Roberts said, when asked if he’d ever seen a left-handed-hitter send a ball over that tarp. “He just keeps doing things that we haven’t seen before. A Minter fastball, middle-middle, and he just took a really good swing. It was 111 mph off the bat.

“That’s deep. People don’t hit the ball out there, whether you’re right-handed or left-handed, day game, night game. The wind was actually kind of pushing it from left to right, so he really got into that one.”

Paxton gave up one earned run and five hits in 6⅔ innings, striking out three and walking two, the latter number a significant improvement for a veteran who had walked 22 batters — eight of them in an April 14 game against San Diego — in 25⅔ innings of his first five starts.

Read more: Watch every home run Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani has hit this season

“It felt great — I finally found some rhythm out there,” said Paxton, who improved to 4-0 with a 3.06 ERA. “We’ve been working hard between games trying to figure it out, and it just feels good to make some progress. … Walking guys always makes the game harder, so being able to get in the strike zone and not walk as many guys was nice.”

The Dodgers won their 11th game in 13 tries, a stretch in which their starters have given up 17 earned runs in 75⅓ innings for a 2.03 ERA and delivered nine quality starts.

Joe Kelly got the final out of the seventh, striking out Adam Duvall, and right-hander Blake Treinen, making his 2024 debut after missing most of the 2022 and 2023 seasons because of shoulder injuries, retired the side in order with one strikeout, whiffing Jarred Kelenic with a nasty 85-mph inside slider, in the eighth.

“It was good to see him back out there, to see him be efficient and make pitches when he needed to,” Roberts said of Treinen. “It looked like he used his entire pitch mix, and that Wiffle ball he threw to Kelenic was pretty impressive. I’m just happy that he didn’t have to labor through that first one.”

With closer Evan Phillips placed on the 15-day injured list because of a right-hamstring strain before the game, right-hander Michael Grove retired the side in order in the ninth to complete the brisk 2-hour, 7-minute game.

The Dodgers had only five hits, four of them by Ohtani, who followed a Mookie Betts walk in the first inning by driving an up-and-in curveball from Braves left-hander Max Fried 412 feet over the center-field wall for a two-run homer.

Read more: Once almost traded to the Angels, Andy Pages is the Dodgers' newest rookie star

Ohtani also singled in the third inning and singled in the sixth ahead of Teoscar Hernández’s two-run homer to right field, his eighth long ball of the season giving the Dodgers a 4-0 lead.

The Dodgers backed Paxton with several superb defensive plays, the biggest coming in the top of the seventh, when Hernández fielded Matt Olson’s leadoff drive off the right-field wall and air-mailed a throw to Betts at second base to cut down Olson, who was trying to stretch the hit into a double.

The strong throw saved a run, as Marcell Ozuna followed with a home run to right-center field to pull the Braves to within 4-1.

Third baseman Kiké Hernández fielded Ozuna’s second-inning chopper on the outfield grass and made a long one-hop throw to first for the out, Betts and Rojas turned a smooth double play on Chadwick Tromp’s third-inning grounder, and center fielder Andy Pages battled a tough sun while catching seven fly balls.

“The defense,” Roberts said, “was great.”

The Braves arrived in Los Angeles with a major league-best 20-9 record on Friday. A three-game sweep in which the Dodgers (23-13) out-pitched, out-slugged and out-played the Braves while outscoring them 20-6 dropped Atlanta two games behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East.

“When you play good teams who were playing really good baseball before they came here, and we do something like this, it’s always important for the confidence of the team,” Rojas said. “But we all understand that this is May, and even though these games are really important, we’re looking for something bigger.

“We’re gonna have to do it again in October to get to where we want to be. Remember, we beat the Diamondbacks last year, the whole year, and we didn't get it done in October. So right now, we celebrate the little victories, but this doesn’t make our year.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.