February 26th, 2024

In first news conference with Dodgers, Shohei Ohtani dodges questions on Tommy John surgery

By Beth Harris, The Associated Press on December 14, 2023.

Customers check out character goods of Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Dodgers at a sporting goods store, "SELECTION," in Shinjuku district Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, in Tokyo. Ohtani agreed to a record $700 million, 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Shohei Ohtani opened his first news conference with the Los Angeles Dodgers by dodging questions about whether he had a second Tommy John surgery.

“It was a procedure. I’m not sure what it was called,” Ohtani said Thursday.

Speaking to media for the first time since Aug. 9, he also refused to say what other teams he negotiated with before the agreement last weekend on a record $700 million contract.

“I just can’t wait to join the team and get it going,” he said through translator Ippei Mizuhara.

Ohtani did, however, reveal the name of his dog, seen on his lap when he appeared on the MLB Network for the announcement of his second MVP award on Nov. 16. The dog has the American name “Decoy” but also has a Japanese name.

He wore a navy business suit with a white shirt and blue tie, took off the jacket and put on a Dodgers home jersey with No. 17 and then the blue cap with the interlocking L&A. He took off the cap before speaking.

He was impressed when Dodgers officials told them they considered the last decade a failure because the team won only one World Series title.

An electronic sign flashed “Welcome to the Dodgers, Shohei Ohtani” in English and Japanese above the stage. Ohtani thanked controlling owner Mark Walter, team president Stan Kasten, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, general manager Brandon Gomes and manager Dave Roberts.

“Shohei is arguably the most-talented player who has ever played this game,” Friedman said, flanked by Ohtani and Walter. “One of our goals is to have baseball fans in Japan convert to Dodger blue.”

A unique two-way star as both a hitter and pitcher, the 29-year-old Japanese sensation left the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent after six years. He’s moving 30 miles up Interstate 5 after the Dodgers won out over the competition by offering a $700 million, 10-year contract in a deal announced Monday.

Ohtani also thanked the Angels.

“It was a fun ride, great ride,” he said.

Ohtani’s news conference started shortly after 3 p.m. (8 a.m. Friday in Japan).

It was Ohtani’s first time speaking with the media since Aug. 9, two weeks before a pitching injury that required surgery and will keep him off the mound until 2025. He had the operation on Sept. 19, but the nature of the surgery was not fully announced. Ohtani had Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1, 2018.

The two-time AL MVP has a .274 batting average with 171 homers, 437 RBIs and 86 stolen bases along with a 39-19 record with a 3.01 ERA and 608 strikeouts in 481 2/3 innings. Ohtani has 34.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), per Baseball Reference.

“He’s got that edge where he’s not afraid of any pitcher,” Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly said Wednesday. “Especially in the playoffs, you need a guy like that who obviously is not afraid and wants to be the star in a big moment.”

Ohtani’s unusual contract calls for annual salaries of $70 million and of each year’s salary, $68 million is deferred with no interest, payable in equal installments each July 1 from 2034-43. He also can opt out of the deal if either Walter or Friedman no longer is with the team, a person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the terms were not announced.

“I just wanted a safety net,” he said.

Kelly is switching uniform numbers, opening No. 17 for Ohtani.

“Our goal is the World Series every year,” Kelly said, “so if you could put in players who aren’t afraid of the moment, it goes a long way here.”

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB

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