PHOENIX – Shohei Ohtani was cleared and hit on the field Monday for the first time since undergoing elbow surgery, reinforcing the likelihood that the new Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter and $700 million man would be ready when the club opens its season in Korea on March 20.
Ohtani, ensconced on one of the back fields at the Dodgers’ facility at Camelback Ranch in Arizona, took his first swings outside of a batting cage since undergoing surgery last September to repair his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He sported a black sleeve on that arm as he took pitches from game planning coach J.T. Watkins.
The two rounds of batting practice were quite well-attended, from front office personnel to hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc to the dozens of media members attempting to snap photos and footage of the hacks through a wire fence. Ohtani registered 21 swings, with 10 of them connecting on balls that cleared the outfield walls.
Wow, Shohei. 😳 pic.twitter.com/ifYb2cHVzY
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) February 12, 2024
A phone set on the ground recorded each swing, while an iPad connected to the club’s internal data systems displayed the exit velocity of each batted ball. Ohtani hit as high as 109 mph with his exit velocity during the session, with several of those batted balls registering in triple digits.
“It’s fun to see obviously, watch the ball go really far and fast,” Van Scoyoc said of Ohtani’s session. “He’s explosive, has leverage, speed, strength, the whole thing. … He moves a lot faster than most guys.”
It’s another encouraging development for Ohtani, who has been steadfast that he will be ready as a hitter come Opening Day.
“I felt like the swings were feeling really good, which is a really good sign. I think it’s trending toward me being ready for Opening Day,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara.
Hitting on the field allowed Ohtani a chance to check in on his prodigious power post-surgery; his process, he said, is more strength-driven outdoors as opposed to being “more technical” in his cage work inside the club’s new hitting facility.
Each swing, Ohtani said, “felt strong,” with no ill effects from either the elbow procedure or the oblique issue that ultimately ended his American League MVP campaign last fall.
“He looks outstanding,” Van Scoyoc said, having worked with Ohtani so far this winter at Dodger Stadium after the two-way star joined the Dodgers in December.
Ohtani, who signed a record-setting 10-year, $700 million deal this offseason, said earlier this month he is anticipating starting a throwing progression at some point during spring training as the Dodgers evaluate how they’ll schedule his pitching rehabilitation. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts confirmed this week what has been clear for some time — Ohtani will be available only as a hitter this season.
(Photo: Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)