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After a shaky start, should the Dodgers be worried about Yoshinobu Yamamoto?


SEOUL — The highest-paid pitcher in Major League Baseball history threw his first MLB pitch in the top of the first inning Thursday night in Seoul, but Yoshinobu Yamamoto didn’t last until the second. The 25-year-old rookie prizes for this winter’s free agent pitching class allowed five runs on four hitswalked one batter and hit another in a nightmarish first outing that included nine batters, three outs and an unforgettable first inning.

It was an unceremonious start to his career, with the Dodgers betting that $325 million will be highly decorated in the end. But what became clear Thursday is that Yamamoto will need time to adjust to his new competition. He might need a week. He might need more.

“The problem I had today was that I wasn’t able to control my throws,” Yamamoto said through an interpreter.

Yamamoto’s spring training results suggest the ace who made his living on pinpoint control in Japan — and struck out 169 batters while walking just 28 in 2023 — may experience a slip-up in his transition to the MLB. After two dominant innings in his first outing, Yamamoto allowed a combined nine runs on 14 hits in 7⅔ innings in his next two. He told reporters earlier this week that he wasn’t worried about the numbers, in part because he was experimenting somewhat and working on some things.

Earlier in the week, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said the team staff would work with Yamamoto on his game plan and how to best use his pitch mix against big league hitters, and said he expected the right-hander to need time to adjust. But he admitted Thursday night that what he saw from Yamamoto in that first round wasn’t so much about match planning as it was about the one thing Yamamoto rarely had to worry about in NPB.

“I just didn’t have the command,” Roberts said. “It’s not about things. When you’re a commander, which he’s been his whole career, his whole life, and you’re misfiring, you’re behind in counts, you’re hitting hitters, that’s just not who he is. East. We just need to get back to refining the delivery, strengthening the command, and we’ll be fine.

Catcher Will Smith later politely confirmed that he saw Yamamoto more accurate than he was on Thursday. But no matter where he was headed, Yamamoto’s stuff looked good: His fastball was hovering around 95, which is right where it should be. The problem, it seemed, was actually as simple as a lack of leadership. But lack of control is not the norm for Yamamoto, but rather a symptom. He said he thought he figured out the underlying problem, a mechanical problem that arose as a result. He also said he thinks he knows how to fix this.

But it’s hard to ignore the fact that the 25-year-old pitcher the Dodgers paid so much money for was making his MLB debut in an unfamiliar location against hitters he doesn’t yet know inside out. Steeling your nerves is normally a prerequisite for command. Asked what role his nerves might have played, Yamamoto did not give in to that premise.

“I regret not being able to keep the team in the game from the start,” he said. “I feel a responsibility.”

Roberts wouldn’t blame nerves, either.

“He’s not running away,” Roberts said.

And the Dodgers, who need Yamamoto to be a reliable upper arm this season, certainly won’t run away from him immediately, either. It remains to be seen exactly when its next release will take place. Perhaps the best news for him and the Dodgers is that it will be tough to come out much worse than Game 1.


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