Yoshinobu Yamamoto Already Becoming a Force at Dodgers Camp

Everyone that witnessed Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s expertise on display at Camelback Ranch walked away in complete awe.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 14: Yoshinobu Yamamoto #18 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches during workouts at Camelback Ranch on February 14, 2024 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought the carnival had come to the Los Angeles Dodgers side of Camelback Ranch.

Fans and media members alike buzzed from one sight to the other, occasionally taking leisurely strolls to another spot in the facility while a live band provided a soundtrack of hits from the past five decades of rock and roll.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto wasn’t underneath the big top performing a trapeze act, no. It’s Spring Training. But the responses from everyone that witnessed his expertise were in equal awe.

“Really glad he’s in this locker room,” Freddie Freeman said after striking out on five pitches during the 25-year-old starter’s first live batting practice.

Ad – content continues below

The top of the Dodgers lineup looked uneasy 60 feet and six inches from their new teammate. Mookie Betts barely fisted a bloop over second base before walking away from home plate with his head shaking. Max Muncy and Manuel Margot had similar struggles in the batter’s box, while Jason Heyward didn’t even attempt to swing the bat. 

When Yamamoto finished the session, the five hitters he faced came to the mound and gave him a welcoming hug. It’s one of the reasons manager Dave Roberts has said both Yamamoto and Shohei Ohtani have felt welcomed in a new clubhouse.

“I think coming from me just wanting to help them feel welcome, being somewhere really far away from home, new surroundings,” Heyward said of the embraces. “It’s very easy to feel like you’re on an island by yourself, so I’m doing our best to make sure he doesn’t feel that way.”

Even before his clubhouse companions came to greet him between the mound and home plate, the fans gathered behind the backstop at Camelback Ranch gave Yamamoto a hearty applause for his first performance in Dodger Blue.

“What was so impressive, obviously, was the command, the stuff. It’s all there, but to have all the eyes, all the hype, all his first live BP everyone’s watching — for him to go out there and do what he did today, it’s very, very impressive,” Freeman shared.

From the sidelines, it appeared that anywhere catcher Will Smith placed his mitt, Yamamoto would tag with his best pitches. And yet, the rookie from Japan feels that the amount of gushing from fans and praise from those in Dodgers uniforms on Feb. 17 is nothing compared to what he’ll accomplish during the season.

Ad – content continues below

“This is not the best yet. I’m gonna keep adjusting what I need to, and it’s going to be getting better,” he said through an interpreter.

Before he stepped onto Field 1, Yamamoto’s bullpen session was greeted with ooh’s and ahh’s from the crowd that gathered. Those closest to Yamamoto emitted the best reactions. Along the bullpen fence were teammates Tyler Glasnow, Joe Kelly and Bobby Miller. When word spread that Yamamoto would face Betts, Freeman and Muncy, even more flocked near the 5-foot-10 future ace.

“You can see him on video, but to see him in the box, facing and it’s the head turn, it’s the pause. There’s so many moving things,” explained Freeman.

Were the command and movement of his pitches not enough to trouble opposing hitters, the overall uniqueness with which he delivers each pitch from the windup causes further difficulty. First, it’s the deep step back from the pitching rubber that’s followed by a hesitation. As his body comes forward and turns perpendicular, his head makes an unusual turn to the right as if to check an invisible runner at third base.

Freeman noticed it immediately, and Margot also made a point to mention this. Both feel it will be hard for hitters to adjust to this initially. 

“It’s very different. You’re not used to this in the United States. We’re not used to the pauses and all that kind of stuff,” Freeman said. “It’s just things you’re not used to facing. And then for him to put the ball where he wants? And hit any quadrant?”

Ad – content continues below

It’s all very deliberate, something Roberts has already observed of his $325 million pitcher.

“He’s very regimented, which you would expect, in his body preparation,” the eight-year manager explained. “His routine as far as getting ready each day is very methodical.”

Take his warm up routine, for instance. It might look like Yamamoto is holding a balancing pole for that evening’s performance on the tightrope. Rather, it’s a javelin that’s utilized as part of a regimen designed by renowned trainer Osamu Yada. Yada Sensei, as he’s known in Japan, focuses on flexibility over strength. His techniques are so respected that the Dodgers have hired him to continue working with Yamamoto. 

“That’s what’s so cool about the sport, this game and sports in general — life. There’s so many different ways that you can do it to be great at your profession,” Freeman said. “I really can’t say enough wonderful things about Yamamoto today.”

Notes From Camelback Ranch

  • Shohei Ohtani had a scheduled day off on Saturday. Roberts said Ohtani will be on an every-other-day program following offseason surgery to repair a torn UCL. His first session of live batting practice could come as early as Sunday, Feb. 18.
  • After facing Tyler Glasnow during live BP the day prior to facing Yamamoto, Freeman was gobsmacked by his luck at the plate. “What we’re facing on Feb. 16 and 17 is — it’s exciting for us, obviously — our confidence right now as hitters, it’s low facing those kinds of guys.”
  • “He’s doing a great job of getting comfortable in our environment with the Dodgers and starting to learn players’ names,” Roberts said of Yamamoto. “And I think that’s a really important piece too. I think that when you see Yoshi walk around, very focused in his work, but he’s also smiling when he’s not working and I think it just shows that he’s comfortable being here and that’s really important.”
  • Freeman was confused during one moment of the morning, unaware of Yamamoto’s workout routine. “I was taking flips at 9:40 getting ready for my day and I just peeked outside and I see javelins flying into the air and I was like, ‘What is going on?’”