Updates on Ohtani, Yamamoto and Rotation from Dodgers Camp

Set to open the season in Seoul, Korea, the Los Angeles Dodgers are starting to acclimate their new star pieces in camp ahead of Opening Day.

Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Dodgers talks with Teoscar Hernández #37 during workouts at Camelback Ranch.
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 14: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Dodgers talks with Teoscar Hernández #37 during workouts at Camelback Ranch on February 14, 2024 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a little more than three weeks, the Los Angeles Dodgers will hop aboard a plane to Seoul, Korea for a two-game set against the San Diego Padres as part of the 2024 MLB World Tour. 

At no point during the 13 hour and 20 minutes flight to Incheon International Airport will manager Dave Roberts be coordinating the team’s pitching strategy for the short series at the Gocheok Sky Dome.

Right now, he and the Dodgers coaching staff have most of the plan figured out for the first ever regular season games to be held in South Korea.

“I think that we’re gonna hold off on (announcing that),” Roberts responded when asked about the starters for the Seoul Series, “Because I think we just want to just check the next boxes and what I don’t want to do is say something and have to retract it. So let’s try to gain a little bit more momentum and then I’ll be happy to announce it.”

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Is it possible Yoshinobu Yamamoto would be excluded from getting the ball in Game 1 of the season in order to ease his adjustment to MLB? According to Roberts, Yamamoto could be in the mix.

The announcement on Monday that the 25-year-old phenom would not be pitching in the Cactus League opener against the Padres on Thursday came as the second piece of news on consecutive days for those who bought at ticket to Peoria Sports Complex. Fellow Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani will also be missing from the lineup.

“Shortly thereafter, I see him playing with us but not this weekend,” Roberts shared.

Ohtani’s Schedule

Monday also marked the first time Ohtani took live batting practice.

While he was expected to begin on Saturday like many of his teammates, the $700 million man is following his own regimen following offseason surgery. Seemingly unorthodox, it’s not the first time players at Camelback Ranch operated independently.

“Freddie (Freeman) and Mookie (Betts), when they came over as veteran ballplayers, they didn’t have an injury that they’re dealing with,” Roberts explained. “But we still had to understand how their routines were and Freddie’s routine is different than Max Muncy’s routine or Chris Taylor and Mookie the same way. So I think that with certain veteran players, you have to respect they know how to prepare for a season.”

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There’s a sense from the coaching staff that Ohtani will be ready for the season with as few or as many at-bats, during live batting practice or in Spring Training games. Los Angeles has plenty of time before traveling across the Pacific. A total of 21 exhibitions, including one day of split-squad games, will give Ohtani more than enough opportunities to prepare for Seoul.

As far as rehabilitation from UCL surgery, that’s been more of a concern for the training staff and not the coaches or Roberts. Though Ohtani will not pitch this year, he will still need to work through a routine so that he can get back onto the mound in 2025.

Starting Rotation

Yamamoto’s transition to the U.S. means being a part of a rotation that throws once every five days. In Japan, that wasn’t necessarily the case when he was with the Orix Buffaloes. Considering the $325 million investment, the Dodgers recognize the need for a different approach with the rookie. 

“It’s not going to be the traditional — we have depth. And so to potentially use the off days, also insert other pitchers to give — whether it’s Yoshi or (James) Paxton or whoever — an extra day, we’re prepared to do that.”

Until Clayton Kershaw returns from shoulder surgery mid-season, the rotation may need to utilize a sixth-starter on occasion when off-days don’t allow for additional rest of the staff.

Reports on Paxton’s first live BP on Saturday were positive. The 35-year-old signed a one-year deal that could reach $13 million if all incentives are reached. He hasn’t pitched more than 100 innings in a season since 2019, so it will be important for him to contribute innings until Kershaw comes back.

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Tommy John surgery at the start of 2021 season wiped away two seasons of performance while injuries to his right hamstring and right knee limited Paxton to 96 innings in 2023 with the Boston Red Sox.

Even more buzzworthy at Camelback Ranch was the bullpen session and live competition starring Yamamoto.

“Yoshi was fantastic,” said Roberts. “I think for me a lot of pitching is that hitters tell you how good your stuff is. And so watching Yoshi pitch yesterday, the fastball command was fantastic. He pitched in, he pitched away, down. He got some takes for strikes. He got swing and miss.”

Walker Buehler was able to throw an aggressive bullpen in his first normal Spring Training since requiring the second TJ surgery of his career in Aug. ‘22. Bobby Miller, who broke out over 22 starts in his debut campaign last season, has utilized Buehler this spring after leaning on Lance Lynn and Kershaw at times in 2023.

Outfield Options

James Outman will be the starting center fielder despite the club re-signing Jason Heyward and adding Manuel Margot in a trade.

While Margot played 55 games in center with the Tampa Bay Rays last season and bats right-handed, the team isn’t planning on using the third place finisher for the 2023 National League Rookie of the Year any less in 2024.

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“(Outman’s) shown that he can take good at bats versus left-handed pitching, so it’s definitely not a platoon situation,” Roberts said. “It’s more of a ‘How can I keep Manny involved’ situation.”

Chris Taylor, who only played in center field for 17 innings last year after logging significant time at the position in 2021, is also an option. He’ll feature at third base, shortstop and left field to reprise his role as utility player in nearly an identical fashion as last year.

The final two outfield spots will go to 24-year-old homegrown talent Miguel Vargas and free agent signing Teoscar Hernández. L.A. gave a one-year deal to the corner outfielder after Hernández rejected a qualifying offer from the Seattle Mariners.

“He’s really wanted to be a Dodger,” Roberts said. “The message is go out there and play good defense and be a good hitter first, and the slug will be there — runs batted in and all that stuff. He’s 100% and I think he’s gonna have a fantastic season.”