Shohei Ohtani wasn’t swinging at maximum intensity Monday.
But, in his first on-field batting practice since undergoing elbow surgery last year, the new Dodgers star didn’t need full power to put on a thunderous show.
During a 21-swing session on a backfield at the team’s Camelback Ranch spring training facility, Ohtani launched 10 home runs and plenty more hard line drives with seemingly relative ease.
It was the most positive step yet in Ohtani’s ramp-up this spring, which has been impacted by the torn right elbow ligament he suffered last year — an injury that required him to undergo a second Tommy John surgery in September and will prevent him from pitching this season.
Monday also confirmed the slugger’s optimism that, despite his elbow issues, he’ll be ready to be the Dodgers’ opening day designated hitter when their season starts in South Korea next month.
“I felt really good overall,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. “Every swing got really strong with some good results.”
When Ohtani arrived at Dodgers camp last week, he had yet to take on-field swings since having his elbow surgery last September. Though he’d long been targeting to play on opening day, going back to when he signed his historic (and heavily deferred) 10-year, $700-million contract this offseason, he still had several important boxes to check in camp to get there.
That made Monday’s session the highlight of the day at Camelback Ranch.
Surrounded by several front office executives, training staff members and co-hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc — not to mention dozens of reporters and camera crews stationed behind the home-plate screen and in several spots beyond the outfield fence — Ohtani took swings off soft-toss throws from game planning coordinator J.T. Watkins.
His first drive one-hopped off the fence in left-center field. The next one cleared the center-field fence 415 feet away.
“I was planning to swing on the lighter side,” said Ohtani, who was wearing a brace around his right arm during the workout. “But I felt like the swings were feeling really good, which is a really good sign. I think it’s trending towards me being ready for opening day.”
Typically, Ohtani does most of his hitting work indoors in a batting cage, where he focuses on the technical components of his swing mechanics. However, the 29-year-old said he wanted to get outside Monday to “check the strength and how strong [I’m] feeling” — both with his elbow and a right oblique that he also injured late last season.
Even though he said he was “being a little careful” with his swings, Ohtani still scattered balls around the outfield and a dirt lot beyond center field.
A couple drives cleared a row of trees planted just beyond the outfield fence. On another pitch, Ohtani grunted during a swing at a pitch he seemingly popped up — only to watch it carry just beyond the wall in left-center field.
After each swing, Ohtani glanced at a phone and tablet in the opposite batter’s box that were displaying data readings. After completing two rounds of pitches — he hit five home runs in each — he consulted with coaches before walking off the field and back to the clubhouse.
While Ohtani won’t take outdoor batting practice every day, he said he plans to do so more often during the spring than during the regular season.
“I’ll be mostly doing my hitting work in the cage,” he said. “When there are things I need to check on, that’s when I’ll hit outside.”