Signing the largest contract in the history of North American professional sports adds a little more attention to just about every notable event, milestone or not. Shohei Ohtani taking outdoor batting practice on Monday at Camelback Ranch was important for a few reasons. Not just because it was his first such session with the Dodgers, but also his first since elbow surgery.
Wearing a brace over his right elbow, Ohtani on Monday took the next step in his rehab fro his September surgery that will keep him from pitching in 2024.
Both during his introductory press conference at Dodger Stadium on December 14, and at DodgerFest on February 3, Ohtani said he was progressing well since his surgery and was working out for weeks at Dodger Stadium. He said he was hitting soft toss and off of a tee while in Los Angeles, and planned to start hitting in the batting cages once he got to Arizona. Monday marked the next step in that progress.
Throughout, Ohtani has maintained that he plans to be ready to play by opening day on March 20, when the Dodgers open their regular season early with two games against the Padres in Seoul, South Korea.
“If very confident that I’m right on schedule — not ahead or behind schedule,” Ohtani said on February 3. “As long as there’s no setbacks going forward, I should be ready.”
Ohtani expressed a similar outlook on Friday, telling reporters at Camelback Ranch his swing felt close to 100 percent.
“I’m on a brand new team so I’m gonna act like I’m a rookie.” Shohei Ohtani discusses getting to know his teammates and the progression in his swing. pic.twitter.com/y53cemFUJO— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) February 10, 2024
Understandably, Ohtani’s batting practice session on Monday drew a crowd, and not just from the fans gathered on the backfields of Camelback Ranch.
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.
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.
In the 140-year history of the franchise, the Dodgers have only 14 individual seasons and eight players hit 40 home runs. Ohtani over the last three seasons has averaged 41 home runs while hitting .277/.379/.585 with a 157 wRC+. His 44 home runs in 2023, which led the American League despite missing the final four weeks of the season, has been reached only three times in Dodgers history.
After the BP work on Monday, Ohtani again expressed confidence he was on track to be ready for opening day, which is now 39 days away. From Bill Plunkett, who also has a recap of the day at the Orange County Register:
Ohtani thru his interpreter: "I was planning ... to swing on the lighter side. But I felt like the swings were feeling really good, which is a really good sign. I think it’s trending towards me being ready for Opening Day.”— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) February 12, 2024