‘Trust on both sides.’ Why Shohei Ohtani is getting schedule leeway with Dodgers this spring

Dodgers' Shohei Ohtani warms up near the batting cage before taking some swings during spring training on Feb. 14, 2024.
Shohei Ohtani of the Dodgers warms up before taking some swings Wednesday during spring training.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers’ daily schedule might say one thing. But as he prepares for his first season with the club, Shohei Ohtani essentially has the option to say another.

For a player of unmatched two-way talents, Ohtani has also been afforded an uncommon amount of leeway in determining his daily schedule at camp this spring.

On two recent occasions, for example, Ohtani was listed to take live batting practice on the field — in which he would have gotten his first at-bats against real pitching since having elbow surgery near the end of the last season.

But both times — first Friday, then Sunday — Ohtani ultimately went through a different set of activities.


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On Friday, he opted for only a normal batting practice, his third such session of the spring. On Sunday, he didn’t swing at all during the team’s outdoor workouts, returning instead to the club’s indoor facilities after some morning stretches.

“He’s healthy,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We’re just giving him the opportunity that, if he wants to be out there and take live batting practice, great. And if he chooses not to and just works in the cage, that’s fine too.”

To be certain: It’s hardly out of the ordinary for a team to give its best players a level of independence during spring camp. Daily bulletin board schedules, after all, are far from binding agreements. And long before Ohtani arrived, the Dodgers allowed other veteran players — such as Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Clayton Kershaw — freedom to find the right balance for their preseason work.

“With certain veteran players,” Roberts said, “you have to respect that they know how to prepare for a season.”

Ohtani, however, is an even more distinctive case, in no small part because he is rehabilitating an elbow injury that required surgery in September and will keep him off the mound in 2024.

“Number one, he knows his body better than anyone, he’s very aware of his body and he’s been through this process before,” Roberts said, referring to Ohtani’s 2019 season with the Angels, when the Japanese star also was limited to hitting-only duties following his first Tommy John surgery.


“And No. 2,” Roberts continued, “we’re still trying to learn him. So I think for the organization to say, ‘This is what you have to do,’ I don’t think that’s the right process. There’s got to be trust on both sides.”

Right now, the Dodgers’ biggest objective with Ohtani is not to rush his ramp-up for the season.

Both Ohtani and the team remain hopeful he’ll be ready to play by next month’s season-opening series in Korea against the San Diego Padres. Roberts even noted that, while Ohtani won’t take part in the Dodgers’ Cactus League opener Thursday, he could start playing in spring training games “shortly thereafter.”

“I don’t think with Shohei that there’s a certain number of games or at-bats that he has to take to play games,” Roberts said. “I think he’s been around long enough that when he feels like he’s ready to play in a game, he’ll play in a game.”

In the near-term, the same goes for Ohtani’s daily schedule and batting practice availability.

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When the slugger feels ready to face live pitching again, he will. Roberts is anticipating that point to come as soon as the next few days.


But until then, the team isn’t going to pressure Ohtani to alter his spring preparation plans, either — regardless of what the daily schedule might indicate.

“I think where we’re at, there’s good communication,” Roberts said. “We’ve just got to trust each other.”

Recent camp updates

— Roberts said Sunday he has an idea of who will start the Dodgers’ two games in Korea but wasn’t ready to say publicly yet. The Times’ Dylan Hernández reported last week the Dodgers are planning to pitch new Japanese signee Yoshinobu Yamamoto in one of the games.

— Last year’s opening day second baseman, Miguel Vargas, has been practicing in the outfield so far this spring; though with Teoscar Hernández, James Outman, Jason Heyward, Manuel Margot and Chris Taylor already on the outfield depth chart, it’s likely Vargas will begin the season in the minors.

— The Dodgers are hopeful of having relievers Blake Treinen, J.P. Feyereisen and Daniel Hudson available for the start of the season. Treinen and Feyereisen sat out all of last season because of respective shoulder surgeries. Hudson pitched in only three games because of knee problems.