LOS ANGELES — Shohei Ohtani, rehabbing from elbow surgery as a pitcher while also preparing as a hitter, says he is “very confident” he will be ready to serve as the Dodgers’ designated hitter when they open their season in South Korea on March 20.
His manager, Dave Roberts, knows where he’ll hit too.
Roberts sat on a makeshift stage atop the center-field grass at Dodger Stadium on Saturday and revealed the first three spots of his star-studded lineup to those who attended the team’s Fan Fest event, announcing that Mookie Betts would lead off, Freddie Freeman would bat second, and Ohtani would hit third. It triggered a loud roar from a crowd of about 35,000 people, many of whom sported new Ohtani jerseys and T-shirts to commemorate the Dodgers’ $700 million acquisition.
“The Dodgers, Los Angeles, is going to be the epicenter of sports and baseball,” Roberts said, alluding to an offseason in which his team allocated about $1.2 billion on Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow, Teoscar Hernandez and James Paxton on the heels of a 100-win season.
“It’s great for our game, it’s great for the city, and it raises the bar for all of us.”
Ohtani, who underwent something closely resembling his second Tommy John surgery on Sept. 19, has been taking flips — hitting baseballs after someone tosses them underhand from a close distance — and hitting off a tee. He will start hitting velocity shortly after he reports to the team’s spring training complex in Glendale, Arizona, next week.
His throwing program is still mostly undetermined, but he said he is “right on schedule” with his hitting progression and seems confident he will play in a highly anticipated two-game series against the division rival San Diego Padres in South Korea, a nation already clamoring for an up-close look at Ohtani.
“Rehab’s been going really well,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “Just as planned so far. As long as I’m ready by March 20, then I think I’ll be playing throughout the whole year.”
Dodgers shortstop Gavin Lux, who missed the entire 2023 season after tearing an ACL in spring training, also expects to be ready by the start of the season. So does high-leverage reliever Blake Treinen, who has been limited to five appearances over the past two years because of shoulder issues; he expects to have a “normal” spring training.
Walker Buehler, coming off his second Tommy John surgery, will navigate the 2024 season with an innings limit and will start a little late in order to stay within that mark without having to be shut down in-season.
The Dodgers’ rotation has been completely remade this offseason, even though Ohtani won’t pitch until 2025. Yamamoto, Glasnow and Paxton joined the incumbent Buehler and Bobby Miller, with the likes of Emmet Sheehan, Gavin Stone and Michael Grove ready to step in. Dustin May, recovering from flexor tendon surgery, can also be an option at some point during the season.
But the Dodgers are still hopeful of bringing back Clayton Kershaw, who underwent shoulder surgery in early November and isn’t expected back until around midseason at the earliest. Kershaw is widely expected to eventually sign a two-year contract with either the Dodgers or his hometown Texas Rangers.
“We continue to stay in touch with Clayton,” Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes said, “and we’ll progress.”