April 20, 2024


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The Dodgers are quickly learning that Shohei Ohtani loves details

The Dodgers are quickly learning that Shohei Ohtani loves details

PHOENIX — Back in 2019, before his first season as an exclusive hitter, Shohei Ohtani had a request.

He wanted to do his homework as he prepared to return from Tommy John surgery in May. Yes, Ohtani's rookie season with the Los Angeles Angels was a flash of brilliance, but much of the league remained new to him.

So Ohtani checked the schedule that spring and asked then-general manager Billy Eppler if he could get snapshots of pitchers from the teams the Angels would face that summer.

all. bachelor. One.

Fast forward to this spring and Ohtani's constant thirst for information continues unabated. The Dodgers are seeing that firsthand every day this spring.
“Everything he does is intentional, which is amazing but not surprising,” head coach Dave Roberts said.

Ohtani's physical attributes are a marvel. His striking presence has its own charisma, even at a club with a wealth of big-money contracts and accolades. After all, he is one of the few stars in the sport whose fame is high enough to be referred to as, e.g. Bad bunny song.

But there's something else that stood out during his first spring with his new club. Teammates and club officials are learning that with the latest Dodger, it's all in the details.

“Everything he does is intentional, whether it's in the weight room or on the field, which is something you can't fully appreciate until you see it,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said.

Ohtani is now a two-time MVP and the owner of the richest contract in the sport. Once again, he will be limited to the hitting portion of his game in 2024 after undergoing elbow surgery.

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Ohtani's final full season as an exclusive hitter was a productive one. He debuted in May, pitching in 425 games and hitting 18 home runs. He was more aggressive on the basepaths in the process and ranked seventh among designated hitters in overall offensive production by wRC+. That 120 mark also remains his worst mark in an entire season. Good, but not near the heights that may come.

This spring, Ohtani has become proactive again with his schedule, and the Dodgers respect his judgment. This includes letting Ohtani choose when he feels ready to strike. He made two appearances in the club's schedule for live action before stepping up to the plate for the first time last week.

The Dodgers have slowed their return to the game, which begins with a Cactus League game Tuesday at Camelback Ranch. Ohtani outlined his plan to be ready for Opening Day with the club's hitting staff, noting to Roberts that he will need about 50 at-bats — against live pitching, off the machine or in games — before he declares himself ready for March 20. In Seoul.

Shohei Ohtani takes a swing before the Feb. 23 Cactus League game against the Padres. (Masterpress/Getty Images)

Ohtani explained earlier this month that part of the reason is that this isn't the first time he's gone through this.

As for Roberts, it's a work in progress.

“It's hard to navigate, and I'm learning,” Roberts said. “Because context is everything. And with a player like Shohei, sometimes the context is not highlighted. So I realized that I had to be very careful with my words, so that they are not taken out of context, just in relation to him and the organization. Because I had never dealt with a player “My world. I mean there's only one Shuhei.”

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Ohtani's agent, Nez Balilo, said last week that it was still a balancing act that came down to “a lot of respect between both sides.” The Dodgers granted Ohtani freedom, and Ohtani designed a contract (which included language about ownership and the front office) to help ensure that would stay that way.

“It's not like (Ohtani) is on his own show,” Balillo continued.

The angels have watched him flourish in part because they gave him such freedom. The Dodgers are learning the intricacies of that, too.

The Dodgers noticed the differences in Ohtani's routine. He will use his in-cage work to work on mechanics and use his outdoor swings (which is rare) as a test of strength while measuring his reptile's muscles with a tape. They saw him enjoying his time inside the Dodgers' new indoor hitting facility, noting the way he uses a Trajekt Arc pitching machine (one of the few technological upgrades the Angels flaunted during his time there as well) to get repetitions against different pitchers' release points and pitch characteristics.

“Very accurate,” hitting coach Aaron Betts said. “There's a reason he does everything.”

“He measures everything he does,” fellow hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc said.

Everything about Ohtani must be viewed within a larger context now: what it means for the richest deal in the history of the sport, what it means for the Dodgers' title aspirations, and how the Dodgers changed so much of their normal behavior to make such a spending spree possible.

However, when it comes to Ohtani himself, it's all about the little things.

(Photo by Shohei Ohtani: Jane Kamen Onsia/USA Today)