Yamamoto's bullpens are a must-see -- just ask Shohei!

February 11th, 2024

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It’s not often big leaguers are left so curious about the routines of other players. But through a week at Dodgers camp, that’s exactly what has happened around Japanese phenom .

Around every turn, his Dodgers teammates have been amazed at what the right-hander can do in the weight room and on the mound. Yamamoto’s javelin routine has left his teammates asking more questions than usual, some even wondering if they’ll be able to implement that into their own.

On the mound, Yamamoto has drawn a massive crowd at each of his two bullpen sessions. On Friday, Yamamoto threw his first bullpen session of the spring, which was immediately described as “gross” by Gavin Lux, who stood inside the batter’s box for the session. On Sunday, , general manager Brandon Gomes and manager Dave Roberts were among the group of a few dozen people who watched. Ohtani came away visibly impressed with just about every pitch.

“Every throw he made was with intent,” Roberts said. “Which speaks to his ability to command the baseball. So for me, I had a conversation with him after, and he felt good about his ‘pen. So that was, for me, the thing that stuck out the most.”

The expectations around Yamamoto will be much higher than just about every 25-year-old rookie in Major League history. It’s what comes with the territory after signing a 12-year, $325 million deal this offseason, the most guaranteed dollars ever given to a pitcher.

But while the cameras and attention continue to follow Yamamoto, this spring will be all about getting familiar with his surroundings. Yamamoto will have to adjust to the challenges that come with learning big league hitters and adjusting once the rest of the Majors starts to recognize his pitches better.

Yamamoto will also have to adjust to the ball in the Majors, which is different from the one used in Nippon Professional Baseball, the league in which he won the pitching Triple Crown for the Orix Buffaloes last season. The 25-year-old will also have to get used to pitching in a five-man rotation as opposed to the once-a-week schedule used in Japan.

“I don’t have the experience throwing on shorter rest,” Yamamoto said through interpreter Yoshihiro Sonoda. “But I did everything I could in preparation, adjusting mechanics and a lot of different other things. So I will keep adjusting as needed.”

The Dodgers will continue to adjust, too. As of now, the plan is to open the season with a five-man rotation that includes Tyler Glasnow, Bobby Miller, James Paxton and a competition between Emmet Sheehan, Gavin Stone and Ryan Yarbrough for the fifth spot while Walker Buehler continues to get healthy.

As the season progresses, the Dodgers will continue to gather information on Yamamoto and how he feels physically. But his interesting routine and intense work ethic is what made the Dodgers comfortable in handing out the massive contract this winter.

“He’s incredibly talented,” said Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. “The arm talent is very unique. His ability to command the baseball is very unique. … We’re viewing this Year 1 to get him acclimated and figure it out. We don’t know exactly what that means yet. But we’re going to be partners with him in figuring it out.”

Outside of what happens at the ballpark, Yamamoto has also acknowledged the things he’ll have to adapt to as he lives and plays in a different country. He is still working on his English in order to close the gap on the language barrier. He’s getting to know all of his teammates while also understanding American culture.

An advantage for Yamamoto and the Dodgers is having Ohtani in the clubhouse, who dealt with the same challenges when he came over from Japan before the 2018 season. Ohtani and Yamamoto have their lockers right next to each other in the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch. It’s a relationship that resulted in both players wanting to play for Los Angeles this winter, and one the club expects to continue to grow over the coming months.

“His presence in the clubhouse and being on the same team is reassuring,” Yamamoto said. “I feel like [Ohtani] has my back, and I’ve gotten a lot of support from him.”