GLENDALE, Ariz. — It took just one bullpen session for Yoshinobu Yamamoto to seize the creativeness of his new workforce. It impressed Gavin Lux, who settled into the batter’s field to trace pitches when Yamamoto first obtained off the mound from the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ spring coaching complicated on Friday afternoon. It impressed fellow beginning pitcher Tyler Glasnow, who stood close by. And it impressed those that weren’t even there to observe it.
“I heard it was nasty,” one coach mentioned. “I heard he was just dotting everywhere.”
Yamamoto obtained the most important contract ever given to a beginning pitcher this offseason, a 12-year, $325 million deal that got here on the heels of three consecutive MVP awards in Japan. Any concerns about transitioning from Nippon Professional Baseball to the major leagues had been upstaged by the alluring traits that made Yamamoto essentially the most coveted arm on this yr’s free agent market: That he is solely 25, that he is extraordinarily devoted, that his repertoire is devastating, and that his command — the best way he “dots” the corners of the strike zone — is so superior.
His new teammates have already been drawn to his distinct workout regimen, targeted on flexibility and devoid of conventional weights. Some of them have additionally joked about studying to throw his javelin. But it is Yamamoto’s upper-90s four-seam fastball — thrown with plenty of backspin and little or no downward motion, offering the phantasm that it’s regularly rising because it crosses residence plate — and devastating splitter which have turned heads at Dodgers camp. That he unleashes such hellacious pitches at 5-foot-10 and 176 kilos, whereas delivering them with what quantities to a slide step, has solely added to the fascination.
“I’ve seen people like that,” mentioned Glasnow, who’s listed at 6-8, 225 kilos. “I just think he’s really wiry and really strong. I don’t know if size necessarily matters. I think he can just collect himself very efficiently and there’s no wasted movements in his mechanics. With a leg kick or not, I think about the way he distributes his weight and I don’t know if he necessarily needs a leg kick. He just moves so well. You can just tell he’s so athletic, so I’m not surprised at all. I think once I saw him throw I was like, ‘Duh he throws a hundred.’ He’s just so explosive.”
Only three pitchers listed at 5-10 or shorter — Whitey Ford, Steve Stone and Mike Marshall — have ever received a Cy Young Award. But Pedro Martinez, Bartolo Colon and Tim Lincecum mixed for six Cy Youngs from 1997 to 2009 at 5-11. And Lincecum has been volunteered as an inexpensive comp for Yamamoto by a number of Dodgers coaches and gamers largely due to the best way they each generate momentum with their decrease half.
“It comes out of his hand really good; he spins it great,” fellow beginning pitcher Walker Buehler mentioned of Yamamoto. “I’m just kind of curious to get my eyes on the whole picture of it.”
More than 70 photographers, videographers and followers lined up alongside a rope to observe Yamamoto merely play catch with Buehler on Friday. Two days later, Shohei Ohtani stood behind Yamamoto, his locker neighbor in spring coaching, as he navigated by his second bullpen session.
The Dodgers hope to line Yamamoto as much as begin in some unspecified time in the future throughout their two-game opening sequence in South Korea on March 20 and 21, however it’s too early for his or her rotation plans to be solidified.
Yamamoto mentioned he has seen “more flexibility” by his first spring coaching within the United States, versus the tighter schedules he skilled whereas coaching with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan. He started getting acclimated to the smaller, slicker main league baseball throughout the World Baseball Classic final March and skilled with it this offseason. As spring coaching progresses, he’ll put together himself to start out barely extra usually than as soon as every week.
“I don’t have the experience throwing on shorter rest,” Yamamoto mentioned by an interpreter. “But I did everything I could do in preparation — adjusting mechanics and a lot of different other things.”
The Dodgers will not abide by a strict six-man rotation this season, largely as a result of they do not need to prohibit themselves to a seven-man bullpen. But they appear decided to make use of the off days of their schedule and the depth of their minor league system to persistently give Yamamoto at the very least 5 days off — versus the normal 4 — in between begins. Dodgers supervisor Dave Roberts mentioned the beginning rotation is “going to be fluid.”
Lots of it should hinge on how Yamamoto adapts.
“There’s life assimilation,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman mentioned. “There’s assimilation at the park, between starts. There’s figuring out the right rest and how to adapt more to a major league schedule that we can’t know the answer to right now. We have to be around him, watch how he’s recovering and do it in the most thoughtful way we can because obviously he’s going to be a big part of what we do in 2024 and he’s going to be a big part of what we do for a lot of years. We’re viewing this year as one 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.”
Yamamoto’s numbers in Japan had been nearly incomprehensible, the final three seasons particularly. He posted a 1.42 ERA in 557 2/3 innings from 2021 to 2023, accumulating 587 strikeouts and 110 walks. He confronted 659 batters this previous season and solely two of them hit residence runs. Dodgers vice chairman of participant personnel Galen Carr and the workforce’s worldwide scouts had spent years raving about Yamamoto to the Dodgers’ decision-makers. Friedman took two journeys to Japan to see him in particular person in 2023.
“It’s easy to appreciate what he has accomplished,” Friedman mentioned, “but it takes it up a whole other level when you watch the way he competes, when you see his routine and just what a freak athlete he is.”