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GLENDALE, Ariz. — About 70 members of the media formed a semicircle around a small backdrop at the Los Angeles Dodgers’ facility Friday morning, waiting for Shohei Ohtani to hold his first media session. About 12 of them were spotted hours before the sun fully rose, only to see him drive into the players’ parking lot.

Ohtani’s gravitas have been evident in the first two days of spring training, but he’s just trying to get himself into shape as a freshman. He sees himself as a “starter” after six years with the cross-town rival Los Angeles Angels.

“I like to go up and say hi, introduce myself,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ipe Mizuhara. “But there are too many people, so I have to make sure I don’t introduce myself twice. If I do, hopefully they’ll let him go.”

Ohtani said he is close to swinging at full strength and will begin hitting speed soon, a sign that he remains on track to become the Dodgers’ designated hitter when the team opens the season on March 20 in South Korea. He is setting himself up as a hitter while recovering from elbow surgery as a pitcher, noting that he previously went through that process until the 2021 season. He believes that it will be “easier the second time”.

The hard work and discipline that allowed Ohtani to develop into a two-way player from 2021 to 2023 is already evident. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts noted how “intentional” and “regimental” Ohtani is in his work, saying that “every minute of every clock is important,” leaving precious few for small talk. Other players wanted to watch him, Roberts said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody more careful with his work with every rep,” he said among the small group of players gathered for workouts at Dodger Stadium leading up to the start of spring training. With Ohtani, Gavin Lux and Walker Buehler, among others.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, “We knew his work ethic was top-shelf, but to see how intentional everything he was doing — our training staff commented that they’ve never seen him come back from surgery. He’s intentional about everything he does, every swing he takes. “A lot of people come into the house and mindlessly swim. He goes through his entire pre-pitch routine before every swing. Whether it’s in the weight room, in the locker room, on the field, you can’t fully appreciate it until you see it.”

Ohtani suffered a grade 2 sprain in his right (pitching) elbow three months into his major league career in 2018 and didn’t emerge as a full-time dual player until the start of his fourth season. . From 2021 to 2023, Ohtani won two unanimous MVPs — he would have had a third if not for Aaron Judge’s record-breaking home run season in 2022 — and accumulated 26.5 FanGraphs wins more than anyone else.

On Friday, Roberts confirmed what has long been clear — Otani, who underwent a second Tommy John surgery in September, isn’t an option to skip anytime in 2024. He believes making him a Dodger. Even though Ohtani is doing half duty, he “raises the bar” for the entire team.

Roberts said of Ohtani, “Just a great sense of humility and kindness, but there’s that lion in there. You see it. And that to me — that’s the perfect combination.”

Roberts told the Dodger Fest crowd last Saturday about his plan to hit Mookie Betts in the leadoff spot, Freddie Freeman in the second and Ohtani in the third as the games count, but cautioned Friday that he was throwing out that lineup as an “exercise” to gauge the fan base. Feeling. He wants to talk to all three before consolidating the first three positions.

Ohtani improved significantly as a hitter from 2022 to 2023, his OPS jumping from .875 to a major league-leading 1.066. In The Angels, arguing for a dual role was an idea that helped him offensively, mostly because he didn’t have time to think about the negative consequences. But perhaps refocusing solely as a DH — living in a superior lineup and with more experience than the last time he took on that role in 2019 — will elevate his offensive game even further.

“I feel like there’s not just one level, but several levels in front of them,” Ohtani said. “It just depends on what kind of lineup I’m in and everything. But in the end, my focus will be the same – focus on my hitting and trying to get better.”