Shohei Ohtani to begin throwing progression when Dodgers return from South Korea


SEOUL — Shohei Ohtani was always going to be a central figure this week, with his Los Angeles Dodgers debut set for Wednesday night against the San Diego Padres at Gocheok Skydome in Seoul, South Korea. Yet the more important development for the two-time MVP’s two-way future will come when the club returns this weekend to Los Angeles.

Ohtani, who will serve solely as a designated hitter in his first season after inking a record-setting 10-year, $700 million deal this winter, is set to start a throwing progression once the Dodgers return home, manager Dave Roberts confirmed Monday morning.

It’ll be Ohtani’s first time throwing a baseball since undergoing his second elbow ligament reconstruction surgery on Sept. 19. And while Roberts reaffirmed what he, Ohtani and Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo have said throughout the spring — that Ohtani won’t pitch at all for the Dodgers in 2024 — it opens the door for the next stage of his fresh tenure with his new club.

That includes, Roberts said, the possibility of a conversation about Ohtani playing a position at some point, rendering the first base mitt and outfielder’s glove sitting in his locker this spring more than just an ornament.

“We’ll see how that progression goes,” Roberts said. “If his arm is healthy enough, we’ll have that conversation in the field. I do know he’s not gonna pitch this year. But right now, our only focus is him being a designated hitter.”

While Ohtani won’t pitch in major league games this year, there remains a chance he goes deep into his pitching rehab by season’s end. Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed both of Ohtani’s elbow procedures (including a 2018 Tommy John surgery), told the Associated Press this week that the 29-year-old had an “enhanced version” of Tommy John this time around that also included an internal brace — a braided suture to help support his new ligament — and that Ohtani is scheduled to start facing hitters in the last week of September should all go well.

“I think with Shohei anything is possible,” Roberts said. “I hadn’t heard that one, but if that’s what Dr. Neal said, then he’s the expert.”

Ohtani originally said last month that he was hoping to begin a throwing progression while the Dodgers were in Arizona for spring training, but both he and the Dodgers have been willing to be patient with the right-hander’s timeline.

“Time is on our side in this one, especially if he’s not going to toe it up all year,” Balelo told The Athletic last month. “Why rush that?”

Ohtani’s one-way play has done little to quiet the excitement of his Dodgers arrival, much less with the club just a short flight from his native Japan as they open the 2024 season, with the Korean fanbase — an athletic rival to Japan — embracing the global superstar and roaring at even the mere sight of him.

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“I appreciate all the attention, obviously,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara as the club arrived Saturday. “Attention’s always great, being a baseball player and being able to play with these great guys next to me, I’m just really excited. I’m excited to be part of the team and prove to everyone that I’m actually a Dodger now.”

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(Photo: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)





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