'Great vibe' for Yamamoto in scoreless Dodger Stadium debut

March 31st, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- ’s first act in the Majors couldn’t have gone much worse. The Japanese right-hander was the first person to admit that.

In his Major League debut, Yamamoto recorded just three outs, allowing five runs in the process against the Padres. Yamamoto, now the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history, battled some nerves in Seoul, South Korea, and his routine was altered due to the travel and long pregame celebrations.

From the moment Yamamoto got on the plane back to Los Angeles, he was determined to make his second chance at a first impression count. He did just that on Saturday, striking out five and allowing two hits over five scoreless innings in the Dodgers’ 6-5 loss in 10 innings against the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.

“I wasn’t surprised by it. It was good to see,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “I don’t want to make too much of a second start, but I just really believe that this is a sign of more things to come.”

Getting a chance to watch Yamamoto for the first time in his MLB career, the home crowd gave a roaring ovation as he was introduced pregame. That applause grew even louder once Yamamoto showed them what they can hope to expect over the next 12 seasons.

Yamamoto wasted no time attacking the top of the Cardinals’ order. He fired off three consecutive strikes to Brendan Donovan, striking him out looking on a 79 mph curveball to start the game. He followed by getting former National League Most Valuable Player Paul Goldschmidt swinging on his signature splitter. Nolan Gorman got the same treatment as Yamamoto struck out the side in the first inning.

“That was a great vibe,” Yamamoto said through interpreter Yoshihiro Sonoda. “Crowd, fans, I enjoyed it. That was great.”

While the Cardinals hit five balls off Yamamoto with an exit velocity of 95 mph or above, he never got into any real trouble. The key for Yamamoto, as was the case on his way to three pitching Triple Crowns in Japan, was showing off his elite command. It’s what had scouts raving about him, ultimately helping him become a $325 million man this winter with just about every big-market team pursuing his services, despite his never throwing a pitch in the Majors.

“Huge,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, when asked about Yamamoto being able to consistently land curveballs and splitters. “Pitching with the fastball with the command, I think if there’s a pitcher around that can do that, it’s Yoshinobu. But to keep guys off-balance front to back, it’s very important. I think the curveball is his slowest pitch, but to get guys off-balance a little bit and mess with their timing, and now you get the swing-and-miss split, it just plays so well. They’re both critical.”

Over the last six days, Yamamoto obsessed over getting his mechanics right. This spring, Yamamoto dealt with some pitch tipping. He has since fixed that. Now, the Dodgers believe the mechanical cues are right where they need to be.

Before the game, Roberts and assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness both expressed confidence that Yamamoto was going to fare much better in his second start. As Yamamoto retired Brandon Crawford to end the fifth inning, the 25-year-old flashed a smile as he walked back to the dugout, maybe showing some relief.

“I’m sure it was a difficult outing, pitching in a rainy environment,” said Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani through interpreter Will Ireton. “Even with the rain delay, he was able to go out and pitch another inning, so I thought it was a really good outing.”

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the bullpen was unable to hold the lead and help Yamamoto secure his first win in the Majors. But he’ll get plenty of chances. For now, the Dodgers will settle for finally watching glimpses of the pitcher they paid for, and an outing Yamamoto can build off moving forward.

“There was some part [of me that] was relieved with today’s pitches,” Yamamoto said. “Right now, I’m thinking about the next one.”