Shohei Ohtani is unlikely to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2024 following elbow surgery, but the game’s fiercest left-handed hitter is healthy enough to swing the bat.
The Dodgers released footage Monday of their new $700 million acquisition hitting a home run in his first batting practice of the spring.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Sunday that Ohtani will not play in the Dodgers’ Cactus League opener Thursday against San Diego.
Roberts, however, has been encouraged by Ohtani’s physical progress.
“It’s a lot further along than I think any of us (maybe not named Shohei) would have expected,” Roberts said Saturday. “He has worked very hard, very diligent in his work, so he is ahead of schedule.”
‘What that means as far as when he’ll play in a Cactus League game, I don’t know that answer. But it seems like every day he keeps getting better and feels great.”
The two-time American League MVP will not pitch this season following right elbow surgery on Sept. 19, but hopes to be ready to hit for the March 20 opener against the Padres in Seoul, South Korea. .
Ohtani, 29, hit .304 in 135 games last season and led the American League in home runs (44), on-base percentage (.412), slugging percentage (.654), OPS (1.066) and total bases (. 325) while winning. his second MVP award.
He was also voted MVP in 2021 and finished second in 2022.
Ohtani signed a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Dodgers after spending his first six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. However, much of that contract is carried over to 2034 and beyond, meaning Ohtani’s base salary in 2024 is just $2 million.
All signs point to the Dodgers having a stellar offensive lineup. Los Angeles could start a lineup that includes fellow All-Stars like Betts, Freeman, Max Muncy and Will Smith. Ohtani said he is ready to contribute.
“My swing, effort level, is almost 100 percent,” Ohtani said before Monday’s batting practice session.
Ohtani’s first year of his 10-year contract is one of many stories of the big-spending Dodgers, allocating more than $1 billion to free agents. The Ohtani deal was even richer than many expected and days later, Los Angeles landed right-handed pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto on a 12-year, $325 million contract.
Roberts said he has already spoken to Ohtani several times in Arizona, but is trying to give him space as he adjusts to the new environment.
“Everything he does is intentional, which is pretty surprising, but not surprising,” Roberts said. “I think right now you see a lot of teammates trying to watch how he operates, learn what motivates him, but it takes time.”
“But I still have to pinch myself to see him in a Dodgers uniform.”
Roberts said the Dodgers are embracing the organization’s new role as sports’ version of Taylor Swift. The manager recalled his days as a San Francisco Giants player in 2007, when teammate Barry Bonds was chasing the all-time home run record and the media was a constant presence in the clubhouse.
“It’s hard to ignore who he is as a player, the contract,” Roberts said. But he wants nothing more than to win, and win as a Dodger. That’s why he chose to come here. “I can speak for everyone in the organization: we couldn’t be more excited.”
Also on Friday, the Dodgers announced their one-year contract with left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who returns for his 17th season. The deal includes a player option for 2025.
The three-time Cy Young winner underwent surgery Nov. 3 to repair his left shoulder capsule and glenohumeral ligaments, which reinforce the joint capsule. He hopes to be available to pitch this summer. If he decides to return in 2025, he could join Ohtani in the starting rotation.
To make room for Kershaw on the roster, right-hander Tony Gonsolin was placed on the 60-day injured list while recovering from Tommy John surgery.