Yamamoto throws live BP, befuddles Freddie, gets standing O from Mookie

February 17th, 2024

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It didn’t take long Saturday morning to get an early Spring Training scouting report on .

The Japanese right-hander checked off another first with his new Dodgers teammates when he pitched live batting practice for the first time since signing a 12-year, $325 million deal in December. The 25-year-old -- sporting No. 18 -- first warmed up in the bullpen with some ear-popping offerings to catcher Will Smith, then took the mound.

“That’s some crazy stuff. I’m glad he’s on our team,” the All-Star said, moments after walking out of the batting box after managing a couple line-drive fouls down the third-base side and literally shaking his head to team personnel and media gathered. “Control like I’ve never seen.”

Freeman saw a 92 mph cutter and a splitter down and away, among other offerings, at 9 in the morning on Saturday. He also saw a javelin flying through the air as part of Yamamoto’s warmup.

“I was like, 'What is going on?'” Freeman laughed.

Yamamoto was definitely the center of attention. He even got a standing ovation from superstar teammate when he was done.

While in the bullpen, teammates lined up on one side of the fence, and a swarm of media and camera lenses watched from the other. Yamamoto joined batterymate Smith for some notes, then headed to the mound where he threw around 30 pitches for 10 or so minutes.

Lots more attention followed. A packed crowd of watchful eyes from coaches and executives stood behind the batting cage, not to mention the rows and rows of fans gathered behind Field 1’s chain-link backstop as well.

“It was good for me to have the opportunity to face the actual hitters,” Yamamoto said of his outing through his interpreter. “I think this is not the best yet, and I’m going to keep adjusting with what I need to and it’s going to keep getting better.”

In the midst of his scheduled 10 minutes, he stepped off the mound and chatted a bit.

“The coaches asked if I wanted to take a break,” Yamamoto said. “I just wanted to take a moment.”

Yamamoto was brought in to help boost the Dodgers’ pitching. This offseason, Los Angeles also traded for Tyler Glasnow and signed James Paxton, in addition to bringing back Clayton Kershaw.

“I’m very confident that he can be a front-line starter,” Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts said of Yamamoto. “With his fastball, he can throw to all quadrants. And then you look at the pitch mix; the weapons that he has -- fastball, curveball, slider, changeup, the split. And to be able to throw those for strikes to get left-handed hitters out, right-handed hitters out.”

Roberts added that Yamamoto’s routine is “very methodical,” but noted that another side of his high-profile righty is also starting to emerge at The Ranch in Glendale, Ariz.

“Very focused in his work, but he’s also smiling when he’s not working,” Roberts said. “It shows that he’s comfortable being here, and that’s really important.”

Jason Heyward also stepped into the box to face Yamamoto. He deliberately didn’t take swings but saw two splitters, two fastballs and a cutter, all around the same location -- knee-high and down in the zone.

The veteran knows full-well how important Saturday’s outing was for Yamamoto, who was 11 years old when Heyward made his Major League debut in 2010. Heyward is making efforts to reach out to the rotation’s newest hurler off the field as well.

“I just want to help him feel welcome,” Heyward said. “He’s somewhere really far from home, new surroundings. [It’s] very easy to feel like you’re on an island by yourself. I’m doing my best to make sure he doesn’t feel that way.”

Michael Grove, Ricky Vanasco and Matt Gage are scheduled to throw live BP on Sunday, along with non-roster invitees Stephen Gonsalves, Kevin Gowdy, Elieser Hernández and Michael Petersen.