Shohei Ohtani says he’s just trying to fit in with Dodgers

Shohei Ohtani’s first media scrum from Camelback Ranch as a Dodger went just about as expected Friday. A massive cohort of Japanese reporters, most of whom arrived at 7 a.m., camped in front of a backdrop waiting for him. Cameras clicked, clicked, clicked as he approached. His answers to questions in both English and Japanese were brief. He was polite.

It’s impossible for a person of his stature, but he said he’s just trying to fit in.

“I’m on a brand new team so I’m going to act like I’m a rookie and try to get along with all the guys,” Ohtani said through his interpreter Ippei Mizuhara.

Ohtani, for this season at least, will be the most closely followed full-time designated hitter in Major League Baseball history. He isn’t expected to pitch in 2024, not after undergoing elbow surgery last September. He’ll just hit to begin his 10-year, (heavily deferred) $700-million contract. He’ll be tasked to balance his job on the field with rehabbing his elbow off of it. He’s done it before — in 2019 — and he insisted it won’t be a problem.

“This is not my first time doing this, rehabbing while getting ready for the season,” Ohtani, 29, said. “I did this back in ‘19 so I kind of know how to do it and I feel like it’ll be easier the second time around.”

Ohtani batted .296 with 19 home runs and an .848 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 106 games for the Angels in 2019 — his second season in the majors. This time, he’s five years older and on a team expected to reach the postseason (and win the World Series) while under an unprecedented microscope. Everything he does will be dissected.

“My swing, effort level wise, is almost 100%,” Ohtani said. “It’s right about that. My next step is facing live arms or facing some velo from the machine.”

For now, he’s still meeting people and getting acquainted with his new surroundings.

“I like to go up and say, ‘Hi,’ introduce myself,” Ohtani said. “But there are so many new people that I have to make sure I don’t introduce myself twice. If I do, hopefully, they’ll let it go.”