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Miami's hurlin' Hawaiian has thrilling debut

Yamamoto goes 7 scoreless vs. Cards with family cheering him on
@JoeFrisaro
June 13, 2019

MIAMI -- A day ago, Jordan Yamamoto was on the Double-A Jacksonville team bus ready to head to Birmingham, Ala., to face the Barons. Those plans changed when the Marlins called, and the 23-year-old was informed he would be heading to Miami to face the Cardinals on Wednesday night at

MIAMI -- A day ago, Jordan Yamamoto was on the Double-A Jacksonville team bus ready to head to Birmingham, Ala., to face the Barons. Those plans changed when the Marlins called, and the 23-year-old was informed he would be heading to Miami to face the Cardinals on Wednesday night at Marlins Park.

Yamamoto couldn’t have asked for a more ideal Major League debut. The right-hander threw seven shutout innings, scattering three hits, while striking out five in the Marlins’ 9-0 victory over St. Louis at Marlins Park.

Box score

“It was so surreal,” Yamamoto said. “It's one of those moments you can't really explain. You just enjoy the moment. Enjoy the ride. Enjoy everybody cheering you on.”

A native of Pearl City, Hawaii, Yamamoto was able to get his parents and sister on a flight from home to Los Angeles, to Houston and eventually to Miami in time to see his first MLB game.

Initially, his mother balked, saying it would be too expensive. But cost wasn’t an object to the right-hander.

“I was like, 'Mom, I don't care. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Here's my card. Do what you've got to do, just get out here,’” Yamamoto said. “It means the world to me.”

News that another Hawaiian native had reached the big leagues prompted former MLB outfielder, Shane Victorino, nicknamed the “Flyin’ Hawaiian,” to reach out. Yamamoto said he never met Victorino.

“Hawaii is a very tight-knit community,” Yamamoto said. “Shane Victorino reached out to me. It's a great feeling knowing they are behind you.”

Yamamoto’s first big league strikeout was, poetically, to Kolten Wong, another Hawaii native. The two have worked out together in the past.

“Congratulations to Jordan,” Wong said. “He's part of a good lineage of guys right now from Hawaii. It is what it is. I'm proud of him. He pitched really well. He kept his composure and he did his thing.

"You think I'm going to be happy we lost? No. I wanted the sweep. It is what it is. It's not easy to accept this one, but to see him do his thing, a tip of the cap, for sure."

Garrett Cooper went 3-for-5 and blasted a grand slam off Miles Mikolas, and he was a double shy of the first cycle in franchise history. Yamamoto even chipped in with a suicide squeeze bunt for his first big league RBI.

The combination of Yamamoto’s pitching and Cooper’s four RBIs and two runs scored helped Miami snap a six-game losing streak. Curtis Granderson added a three-run homer in the eighth.

Yamamoto was promoted because originally scheduled starter, Jose Urena, went on the injured list on Tuesday due to a left lower back strain. By coincidence, Yamamoto also happened to be lined up to start the same day. That, coupled with the fact that he was already on the 40-man roster, weighed into the Marlins’ decision to go with their No. 17-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline.

Earlier on Tuesday, Yamamoto was preparing to face Birmingham, and White Sox outfield prospect Luis Robert.

“I was talking to one of my teammates about facing Luis Robert, and how he was a great hitter and everything,” Yamamoto said. “Then, five minutes later, I'm getting the call to come down here. It's kind of crazy that things worked out that way.”

Miami acquired Yamamoto as part of the Christian Yelich trade with the Brewers before the 2018 season.

Yamamoto kept St. Louis off-stride with an assortment of pitches, including 47 four-seam fastballs. He changed speeds effectively, with his fastball topping at 93.9 mph, and dipping as low as 85.7 mph. His average was 90.6 mph.

Yamamoto also spun some tantalizing curveballs, one at a tempting 69.8 mph.

“You don't really see guys like him anymore,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I’m sure if he goes to a tryout, the scouts are looking at this guy, but basically you're probably not signing this guy. He's a guy that can add and subtract. There are a few guys out there who do it, but there aren’t very many that add and subtract. He will throw his fastball at 86, then at 92. He just mixes and matches.”

Miami’s defense helped out Yamamato, turning two double plays for him, and three in the game.

“I feel like Jordan getting the call, having the opportunity to be in the big leagues, really calm,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “The way that he's been throwing the ball the last couple of years, I feel like he deserved this opportunity. Sometimes, it's like that. You get opportunities when you least expect it. I'm so proud of him.”

As Yamamoto was getting through seven innings on 95 pitches, with 61 strikes, Cooper was attempting to make team history.

In the 4,208th game in franchise history, Cooper came up in the seventh inning with three hits under his belt -- a triple, a grand slam, and a single. But he struck out against Tyler Webb. And in the eighth, Cooper also fanned off John Brebbia, ending his bid to become the organization’s first player to hit for the cycle.

Per Statcast, Cooper’s grand slam was projected at 429 feet with an exit velocity of 105.1 mph.

“In college [Auburn], I did it a couple of times,” Cooper said of a cycle. “Man, I was really trying for that. I swung a little too hard my last couple of at-bats. But, anyhow, [it was good] to help the team win. Jordan pitched a great game tonight.”

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.