Shohei Ohtani to start throwing program soon; Gavin Stone earns spot in Dodgers rotation

So far, the Dodgers’ trip to Korea has been a quiet one offensively for Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani.

Despite taking plenty of big hacks in the team’s two exhibition games against Korean opponents this week, the slugger went 0 for five in his final tuneup at-bats before the regular season, which begins Wednesday with the Dodgers’ international series against the San Diego Padres.

In a much more notable development Monday, however, manager Dave Roberts said the two-way talent will begin a throwing program once the club returns from its trans-Pacific trek — the latest significant step in Ohtani’s long road back to the mound following last September’s Tommy John surgery.

The news does not change Ohtani’s chances of pitching in 2024. As Roberts reiterated Monday, ahead of the club’s 5-2 win over the Korean national team, the right-hander won’t return to the mound until the 2025 season.

But, the resumption of throwing does indicate that Ohtani is making strides in his rehab from the Tommy John procedure — which he said hasn’t affected his swing this spring — and could open the door to other positional possibilities during the 2024 campaign.

For now, Roberts said the team’s “only focus is him being a designated hitter.” Yet, if Ohtani progresses quickly enough through his throwing program and remains healthy, Roberts left open the possibility of Ohtani eventually being able to play defensively in the field, if the need ever arises.

“We’ll see how that progression goes,” Roberts said. “If his arm is healthy enough, we’ll have that conversation.”

Ohtani has never regularly played a defensive position (other than pitcher) in his major league career. His only seven such appearances, all in the outfield, occurred in 2021 with the Angels, before the league changed roster rules that allowed him to remain in games he pitches as a DH.

Given the Dodgers’ versatile roster depth, he is unlikely to be needed in any role other than DH this year.

Alas, he has told the Dodgers he is open to work in the outfield or at first base. He even kept gloves for both positions in his locker this spring, just in case.

“Something like that could happen,” Ohtani said in Japanese during camp last month. “I think it’s important to be ready.”

Pitching-wise, the start of Ohtani’s throwing program could put him in line to start facing batters again near the end of the season.

Team doctor — and Ohtani’s elbow surgeon — Neal ElAttrache recently told the Associated Press that Ohtani is roughly scheduled to begin pitching simulated games during the final week of September.

Roberts said Monday he wasn’t sure of that exact timeline, but noted, “[I]f that’s what Dr. Neal said, then he’s the expert.”

“I think with Shohei,” Roberts added, “anything is possible.”

Gavin Stone earns final rotation spot

Two days after all but confirming the decision in a news conference , Roberts officially gave pitcher Gavin Stone the news that had been coming all spring.

Stone, the 25-year-old right-hander who overcame a turbulent start to his MLB career last year, will be the fifth and final starter in the Dodgers’ opening-day rotation — a much-deserved honor after Stone surrendered just one run in 14 innings during the preseason.

“Yeah, Doc told me today that I was gonna be the fifth starter,” Stone said after holding the Korean national team without a run or hit in 3⅓ innings at the Gocheok Sky Dome on Monday. “Just incredibly, incredibly thankful for that, and the opportunity they’re giving me.”

Indeed, the decision represents something of a second chance for the team’s former fifth-round draft pick, who stumbled through his first foray into the majors last year by posting a 14.40 ERA in his first three career outings.

After those initial struggles, however, Stone regained form in triple-A, showed signs of improvement over a handful of MLB encores near the end of the season, then dazzled throughout camp this spring, striking out 17 batters while yielding just six baserunners in four preseason appearances.

“The thing that stands out most with Gavin is his maturity,” Roberts said. “When you see a young player, you can tell when things speed up. And now, it just seems like things have slowed down more. On the mound, the misses are the right misses. There is much more consistent execution. And the stuff is holding.”

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