Fans who want to watch Shohei Ohtani's debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers will have to wait until 3 a.m. PT for the team's opener against the San Diego Padres on March 20 in South Korea.
They can at least feel confident that he'll actually be playing in the game.
Appearing at DodgerFest on Saturday, Ohtani told reporters through an interpreter that he feels "very confident" he will be ready for Opening Day after undergoing surgery for a torn UCL at the end of last season. He went into further detail while speaking with SportsNet LA:
"As far as the hitting goes, I'm already swinging close to 100 percent, so I feel like as long as everything goes as planned — and right now, it has been going — I should be ready for Korea, the Opening Day. And as far as the pitching side, we still haven't really started anything.
"The plan is to start rehab in spring in Arizona and kinda take it slower from there. Compared to my first surgery rehab, I feel like this time around is a lot quicker, and everything is just a lot smoother."
Ohtani is not expected to pitch in 2024. While his agent denied that he underwent a second Tommy John surgery, it's clear that Ohtani did have a ligament repaired that can be very tricky to recover from a second time, so the Dodgers are obviously not going to take any risks with their $700 million man.
The Dodgers apparently already have Ohtani's spot in the lineup figured out. Manager Dave Roberts told fans that Ohtani will bat third, with Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman occupying the 1-2 spots as they did last year.
It's not exactly a surprise that the Dodgers are batting their three elite hitters in the top three spots in the lineup, though it's worth pointing out that going Betts-Freeman-Ohtani will mean batting the team's two top left-handed batters back-to-back, potentially giving opposing managers an easy choice on how to navigate platoons in the late innings.
Then again, Freeman hit .335/.399/.609 in 218 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers last season, and Ohtani was respectable at .245/.365/.532 in 170 PAs, so southpaws will have to be wary.
During his time with the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani hit third in 247 out of 701 games, including 59 of 135 games last season.