Los Angeles Dodgers starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto delivers a pitch during the first inning.

Dodgers starting pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto delivers during the first inning of a 4-1 win over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Saturday. (Paul Beaty / Associated Press)

In his first taste of the major leagues, Yoshinobu Yamamoto crumbled.

But on Saturday at Wrigley Field, staring down the barrel of a couple of early bases-loaded jams, the young star Japanese pitcher coolly, calmly and confidently refused to cave.

Since signing his record-breaking $325 million contract this offseason — the largest in MLB history for a pitcher not named Shohei Ohtani — Yamamoto’s transition to the big leagues has been anything but seamless.

Pitch-tipping concerns first raised by his new teammates led to an early glove-positioning adjustment in his delivery. The slicker, untacked balls used in Major League Baseball — unlike the pre-tacked balls Yamamoto used in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league — affected his typically devastating splitter command.

When coupled with all the other challenges that come with uprooting one’s life and moving to a foreign country 6,000 miles away, Yamamoto didn’t always look settled.

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Some days, he wore a nervous expression in front of reporters. Others, he simply seemed out-of-sync on the mound.

Some evaluators around the industry started wondering how long it might take for him to fully adjust to his new team, new league and new surroundings with the Dodgers.

Internally, concern among Dodgers officials never spiked. But their high-priced acquisition wasn’t looking as advertised, either.

“The ultimate goal right now is to just get him comfortable,” assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness said last week. “Get him the right routine.”

Two starts later, both boxes appear to be checked.

After spinning five scoreless innings at Chavez Ravine last weekend, Yamamoto did the same thing in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Chicago Cubs.

If the first outing was a sigh of relief for the organization, the latter was something much more meaningful — a rousing reminder of why they invested more than $375 million (when including Yamamoto’s posting fee) to lock him up for the next 12 years.

In the top of the first, the Cubs’ first three hitters reached on a double, walk and ground-ball single on the infield. Thirteen pitches into the game, pitching coach Mark Prior (and interpreter Will Ireton) were already out for a visit to the mound.

But then, in an alternate ending to Yamamoto’s implosion in Korea, the 25-year-old right-hander dug deep, and started racking up outs.

Christopher Morel was the first victim, waving at three curveballs Dodgers manager Dave Roberts described pregame as being “as good as any right-handed curveball” he can remember (Clayton Kershaw is still the king of left-handed curves, the manager noted with a grin).

Dansby Swanson went down next, even after working a 3-and-0 count. He whiffed on two center-cut fastballs that exploded through the zone. Then, he took a third-straight 97-mph heater that was painted on the inside black.

When the inning ended on a called strikeout — this time, Michael Busch went down looking on a generously called outside curveball — Yamamoto didn’t offer much reaction, other than a brief, instinctual scream as he walked off the mound.

When the script repeated itself an inning later — the Cubs loaded the bases with two outs in the second on a double, walk and error by Max Muncy, only to strand them all again on another curveball Yamamoto grooved for a called third strike — the pitcher was even more understated.

He took one quick look back toward the plate. Then, he dropped his gaze, returned to the dugout and cruised through the rest of his day by recording nine more consecutive outs.

Thanks to a three-run rally from the Dodgers in the fifth — Max Muncy followed a run-scoring wild pitch with a two-run single off the right-field wall — Yamamoto checked another box Saturday, earning his first win as a major league pitcher.

Austin Barnes, left, celebrates with Dodgers teammate Kiké Hernández after scoring on a wild pitch.

Austin Barnes, left, celebrates with Dodgers teammate Kiké Hernández after scoring on a wild pitch by Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Jose Cuas during the fifth inning. (Paul Beaty / Associated Press)

The process of getting there, though, is what resonated more with his coaches and teammates.

Early in spring camp, after Dodgers players were at first dazzled by Yamamoto’s fastball command and array of breaking pitches, they started to notice a more troubling part of his delivery.

From the stretch, Yamamoto would move his glove up and slightly away from his body. From that position, McGuiness said, it was easy to identify when he went to certain pitch grips — especially his splitter.

Dodgers infielders alerted the club’s pitching coaches directly. The team’s own SportsNet LA broadcast highlighted it during one of his spring training starts.

“There was a little bit of fear that you could possibly see a few things,” McGuiness said. “So he had to try some different glove positions.”

In hopes of fixing one problem, however, other “self-inflicted” side effects, as Roberts described them last week, suddenly surfaced.

During his start in South Korea, Yamamoto kept his glove low against his hip while throwing from the stretch. Pitch tipping was no longer a concern. But the timing of his sophisticated mechanics — which include some nimble footwork, a full extension of his throwing arm, then a violent whipping motion that allows even his 5-foot-10 frame to generate above-average velocity — got all out of whack.

“I think that stance directly connects to the transferring of weight,” Yamamoto said in Japanese last week. “I felt things were just a little bit off.”

The San Diego Padres made Yamamoto pay in his MLB debut, tagging him with five runs in one ugly 43-pitch inning. And coming off an inauspicious 8.38 ERA in Cactus League play, other seemingly minor issues — such as a lack of feel for his wipeout splitter, wild command with his pinpoint fastball and inability to generate enough strikes with his curveball — quickly felt like they were beginning to mount.

“It wasn’t good in South Korea,” Roberts acknowledged Saturday.

But, the manager added, “he just came back and went to work.”

Indeed, over the last two weeks, Yamamoto has erased much of that initial doubt.

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In his home debut against the St. Louis Cardinals, he navigated a rain delay while allowing only two of 17 batters to reach base safely.

The start of Saturday’s appearance, meanwhile, showed the mental fortitude and high-pressure composure that Yamamoto, crucially, possesses as well.

“I think — or, I know — that he feels he’s more than capable to be a top-end starter,” Roberts said. “So for me to kind of watch this growth and comfort with all this newness is pretty cool.”

Short hops

The Dodgers acquired pitcher Connor Brogdon from the Philadelphia Phillies for minor league pitcher Benony Robles on Saturday. They also recalled reliever Gus Varland from the minors and designated Dinelson Lamet for assignment.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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