Dodgers empowering Ohtani, Yamamoto to drive their own schedules

February 20th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Juan Toribio's Dodgers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Over the years, the Dodgers have allowed their players -- particularly their stars -- to drive their own schedules.

Through every injury, or even when he’s healthy, Clayton Kershaw has dictated what he believes is best. That’s the type of leeway you earn when you’re one of the best pitchers of all time.

The same could be said for Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, especially in their first year with the Dodgers. To a lesser extent, Tyler Glasnow has also been driving what he thinks is best for his body and repertoire as the Dodgers get to know the big right-hander.

With and , that process has been just about the same. While the Dodgers will be looking for elite performances from the two Japanese players this season, the club's goal this spring has been to get to know them and make them feel comfortable.

For Ohtani, the Dodgers have allowed significant leeway. Not because he’s the $700 million man, but because he’s also coming off a second major right elbow surgery. Since Ohtani has gone through this process in the past, the team has been more lenient in letting the two-time American League Most Valuable Player determine his schedule.

Ohtani opted not to take live batting practice a few times over the weekend, but he finally went through the activity on Monday, hitting a homer off J.P. Feyereisen. Ohtani has been firmly involved in all the other team activities, though, which has been a good sign for the club.

“I think each day he has a plan,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “I haven’t had the conversation as far as the expectations. I think it’s more of each day, preparing myself as we start playing games and at some point in time, he’ll get into games. And just to get better each day.”

In the next couple of days, Ohtani will continue to determine how much he wants to do in the back fields. He’ll also determine when he believes he’ll be ready for Cactus League games. In the meantime, the Dodgers just want him to be part of the clubhouse and stay healthy for the club's Opening Series in Seoul, South Korea, on March 20 against the Padres.

So far, so good.

“We’re just giving him the opportunity that if he wants to be out there and take live batting practice, great,” Roberts said. “And if he chooses not to and just works in the cage, that’s fine too. But [as for] his health, everything is fantastic.”

For Yamamoto, the adjustment has nothing to do with an injury. The right-hander came into camp fully healthy, and he is expected to make his Major League debut either on March 20 or 21 against the Padres in South Korea.

This spring is strictly about getting to know Yamamoto and getting him used to a Major League schedule. In Japan, starters only pitch once a week. This season, the Dodgers will open the year with a five-man rotation, which changes Yamamoto’s routine a bit

Over the next few weeks, the Dodgers will continue to get Yamamoto used to that. They’ll use Cactus League games as a test run. They’ll also utilize off-days throughout the season in order to give Yamamoto an extra day of rest, better simulating what he was doing with the Orix Buffaloes.

It’s a spring full of learning for the Dodgers, Yamamoto and Ohtani. And it’ll continue throughout the season.

“Coming from a different country and a different clubhouse [is a challenge],” said Dodgers shortstop Miguel Rojas. “Hopefully the mojo and routines we have here [will help], they'll get along with us and hopefully they feel as comfortable as they can as soon as possible.”