Yamamoto puts together masterpiece with 8 K's in first MLB win

April 7th, 2024

CHICAGO -- Before Saturday’s game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts described as an artist, pointing to pitching being his best skill. A few hours later, Yamamoto painted a masterpiece at the big league level.

In the first true road game of his Major League career, Yamamoto picked up right where he left off in his previous start, striking out eight and allowing just three hits over five scoreless innings, leading the Dodgers to a 4-1 win over the Cubs on Saturday at Wrigley Field.

Yamamoto also secured his first win in the Majors. After the game, as Yamamoto prepared to answer questions from the media, he was summoned by Mookie Betts for his first ever beer shower.

"I think Yoshi's awesome,” said Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes. “I think he's going to be fine. Obviously he's pitched great against the Cardinals, pitched really good today. When he gets his feet under him, I think he'll be one of the best pitchers in this game."

After one of his worst starts of his professional career in Seoul, South Korea against the Padres, which lasted just one inning, Yamamoto has shown why he was the most sought after pitcher on the market this winter. Over his last two starts, Yamamoto has punched out 13 and has not given up a run in his last 10 innings.

“He’s been really good. And you know, it’s kind of what we expected,” said Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy. “That’s what everyone expected when you talk about the kind of contract that he got. But it’s been really, really fun to watch.”

The outing didn’t get off to a good start for Yamamoto as the Cubs loaded up the bases in the first inning with nobody out. After the early traffic, Yamamoto turned in the best escape job of his short big league career, striking out Christopher Morel, Dansby Swanson and Michael Busch in a row to strand the bases loaded.

Once he froze Busch on a curveball on the outside corner, Yamamoto let out a big roar that was heard all throughout a suddenly quiet Wrigley Field.

“Well, I think he just didn’t want a repeat of Seoul. You could see it,” Roberts. “He got off to a slower start there and he found a way to reach back and obviously limit or have no damage in that inning. For him to hold his stuff, his stuff was still good at 81 pitches in the fifth inning. There’s just a lot of fight. Great competitor.”

In the second, Yamamoto escaped another bases-loaded jam by striking out Cody Bellinger looking. That was about the last chance the Cubs had against Yamamoto on Saturday as the Japanese right-hander retired the last 10 batters he faced.

“At the beginning I was struggling a little bit, but that was because I was falling behind in the count,” Yamamoto said through interpreter Yoshihiro Sonoda. “But after that, I got to bounce back and then in the fourth and fifth inning, I thought I was great.”

Yamamoto had most of his success with the four-seam fastball that was sitting at 97 mph, and a curveball that is already among the best in the league, especially from a right-handed pitcher. The Japanese phenom got 13 swings and misses on Saturday, the most in a game over his first three starts in his Major League career.

“There’s some plus offspeed in there, certainly. It’s a full package,” said Cubs manager Craig Counsell. “I mean, he’s got four plus pitches. So he’s going to be a challenge for sure. We put some pressure on him in the first two innings, we just couldn’t break through, unfortunately. And then he kind of got into a rhythm, which is unfortunately what happens against the good ones, right?”

After his first start against the Padres, there was some nerves and concerns about just how good Yamamoto could be at this level. It was just one start, of course, but that’s what happens when you sign the biggest contract for a pitcher in Major League history.

But over his last two starts, Yamamoto is showing exactly why he won the pitching Triple Crown in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league each of the last three seasons.

“The season is long. We have a long way to go,” Yamamoto said. “I just took it one game at a time and I focused on one game at a time.”