Jack Baer

SURPRISE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 28: Yoshinobu Yamamoto #18 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a warm up pitch against the Texas Rangers during a spring training game at Surprise Stadium on February 28, 2024 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Yoshinobu Yamamoto‘s first start in a Dodgers uniform was a good one. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Dodgers gave Yoshinobu Yamamoto $325 million without ever throwing a pitch in MLB this offseason. On Wednesday, Yamamoto got his first chance to show Dodger fans why, and his stuff didn’t disappoint.

The right-hander faced the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers in his spring training debut and held them scoreless in two innings with three strikeouts and one hit allowed, facing the minimum.

Yamamoto dominated in Japan with an arsenal featuring a four-seam fastball thrown 48% the time, a splitter at 26%, a curveball at 16% and a slider and cutter to round out the arsenal, via Sports Info Solutions.

Those three primary pitches were on full display against the Rangers. First, he struck out Marcus Semien — who finished third in AL MVP voting last year — on a 96 mph fastball. That lands around his usual velocity last season, which is definitely a good sign when we haven’t reached March yet.

Yamamoto gave up a hard hit to postseason star Evan Carter two pitches later, but then got a double play on a grounder from top prospect Wyatt Langford to end the inning.

The first batter of the second inning was Nathaniel Lowe, who won a Silver Slugger at first base in 2022. He’s as much a Major League hitter as you can be, and Yamamoto tortured him in three pitches. He started with a fastball on the inside corner, surprised him with a curveball for a called strike two, then got a supremely ugly swing on a splitter in the dirt for the punch-out.

The curveball looked even better from behind home plate:

Yamamoto ended the outing with a first-pitch fly-out from Jonah Heim, then another ugly strikeout by Leody Taveras on the splitter.

In total, Yamamoto threw only 19 pitches.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto has high expectations after $325 million contract

The Dodgers invested big in Yamamoto, based on universally glowing scouting reports and a stretch of dominance nearly unrivaled in the Japanese league. Yamamoto won three straight MVP awards, three straight Sawamura Awards (the Japanese Cy Young, given to only one pitcher each season), three straight triple crowns and a championship for the Orix Buffaloes in his last three seasons.

Yamamoto’s age of only 25 years old also played a huge part in his payday, as pitches with his stuff and development rarely become available so young.

The Dodgers’ offseason will be most remembered for giving more than $1 billion combined to Yamamoto and Shohei Ohtani, though Yamamoto insisted after he signed that he would have signed with the Dodgers even if they missed out on Ohtani.

Ohtani won’t be pitching this season, but he at least tried to give Yamamoto a helping hand on Wednesday when he tried to remind Yamamoto the inning was over after three outs.

With every other Dodgers starting pitcher either very young or injured, Yamamoto and fellow offseason acquisition Tyler Glasnow are expected to get the first two starts for the team in their opening series against the San Diego Padres in South Korea next month. We’ll see how the rest of his spring goes, but Yamamoto showed Wednesday his stuff might already be good to go.

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