Hitting third, Shohei Ohtani says he'll be ready for the Dodgers' opener

LOS ANGELES — Shohei Ohtani, who is rehabilitating from elbow surgery as a pitcher while also preparing as a hitter, said he is “very confident” that he will be ready to serve as designated hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers when they open their season in the South. Korea on March 20. His manager, Dave Roberts, knows where he'll bat, too.

Roberts sat on a makeshift podium atop center field at Dodger Stadium on Saturday afternoon and revealed the top three homers from his star-studded lineup to those attending the team's Fan Fest event, announcing that Mookie Betts would lead off, Freddie Freeman. He would bat at second and Ohtani would bat at third. That elicited a loud roar from a crowd of about 35,000 people, many of whom wore new Ohtani jerseys and jerseys to commemorate the Dodgers' $700 million acquisition.

“The Dodgers in Los Angeles are going to be a center for sports and baseball,” Roberts said, referring to an offseason in which his team splashed out about $1.2 billion on Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow, Teoscar Hernandez and James Paxton this offseason. 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 very similar to his second Tommy John surgery on Sept. 19, has been swinging and hitting the tee and will begin hitting speed shortly after he reports to the team's spring training complex in Glendale, Ariz., next week.

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His pitching program remains mostly undecided, but he said he's “on schedule” with his hitting progression and seems confident he'll pitch in a highly anticipated two-game series against the rival San Diego Padres in South Korea, the nation already clamoring for a closer look at Ohtani.

“The rehabilitation is going well,” Ohtani said through translator Ibi Mizuhara. “Exactly as planned so far. As long as I'm ready by March 20, I think I'll be playing all year.”

Dodgers shortstop Gavin Lux, who missed the entire 2023 season after tearing his ACL in spring training, also expects to be ready by the start of the season. The same goes for Blake Treinen, who has been limited to five appearances over the past two years due to shoulder problems; He is expected to have a “normal” spring training.

Walker Buehler, coming off a second Tommy John surgery, will navigate the 2024 season at maximum innings and will start a bit late in order to stay within that mark without having to shut down the season.

The Dodgers' rotation has been completely redesigned this offseason, though Ohtani won't play until 2025. Yamamoto, Glasnow and Paxton join incumbents Buehler and Bobby Miller, with the likes of Emmett Sheehan, Gavin Stone and Michael Grove poised to step in. Dustin Maye, who is recovering from flexor tendon surgery, could also be an option at some point during the season.

But the Dodgers are still hoping to bring back Clayton Kershaw, who underwent shoulder surgery in early November and is not expected to return until midseason at the earliest. Kershaw is widely expected to eventually sign a two-year contract with the Dodgers or his hometown Texas Rangers.

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“We continue to stay in touch with Clayton, and we will move forward,” Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomez said.

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