Yoshinobu Yamamoto wows Los Angeles Dodgers fans in Cactus League debut

Yoshinobu Yamamoto delivers a stellar performance in Wednesday’s spring training debut at Surprise Stadium. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

SURPRISE — Surprise Stadium experienced a sea of Los Angeles Dodgers fans roll in Wednesday to witness new Dodgers pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s MLB debut.

Dodgers fans have waited to see the 25-year-old right hander pitch in a game since the team signed him to a 12-year, $325 million contract in December, and he didn’t disappoint in his first outing.

Yamamoto threw two scoreless innings with three strikeouts and only gave up one hit against the defending champion Texas Rangers.

“There’s a part of me that’s relieved,” Yamamoto told MLB.com through an interpreter. “From here, there will be more innings and I’m wondering how that will go. But as far as today’s game was concerned, I thought it went well.”

Fans from all over are making the trip to experience the Dodgers ace’s first major league spring training, sometimes breaking hiatuses to join the spectacle in Surprise.

“This is the first time I’ve come to see the Dodgers in like a long time, and I’m really excited to see Yamamoto pitch,” said Julian Cota, a 22-year-old Dodgers fan.

Cota wasn’t alone. A horde of Dodgers fans could be found near the bullpen in right field, eager to get a look at Yamamoto warming up before he took the mound. When Yamamoto was introduced over the public address system before his first pitch, thunderous applause rang out from the crowd.

Superfan Iggy Castaneda, sporting his Dodgers-themed championship belt, has felt that sense of anticipation around him.

“The fanbase is super excited. We’re ready for the season,” Castaneda said.

After Yamamoto finished his two scheduled innings of work, Jay Beskind, who has been cheering on the Dodgers since 1949, said he felt validated in believing that the talent Yamamoto exhibited in Japan will transition smoothly to MLB.

Los Angeles Dodgers fans flock to Surprise Stadium to witness the MLB spring training debut of pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who signed in December. (Photo by James Lotts/Cronkite News)

Los Angeles Dodgers fans flock to Surprise Stadium to witness the MLB spring training debut of pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who signed in December. (Photo by James Lotts/Cronkite News)

“I picked him to win the Cy Young (Award) about three weeks ago,” Beskind said. “In fact, I almost put down a bet when he was +1500.”

Yamamoto had a 1.21 ERA with 169 strikeouts over 164 innings in 2023 with the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball. He won three straight Triple Crowns, which means he led the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts for three straight seasons, before coming to the Dodgers.

The small peek at Yamamoto was everything Beskind expected and more.

“From what I’ve seen, he’s pretty outstanding,” Beskind said. “I was actually behind home plate for the first inning and unbelievable. His stuff is unreal.”

Yamamoto displayed everything he was known for in Japan, from his electric 96 mph fastball to his wicked 74 mph curveball.

Castaneda doesn’t expect Yamamoto to have trouble bringing that success to MLB.

“I think he’s going to be the same Yamamoto from Japan, if not better,” Castaneda said.

Yamamoto’s new teammate and fellow countryman, Shohei Ohtani, the two-way superstar who signed a 10-year, $700 million deal with the Dodgers this offseason, also made his team debut this week.

Ohtani, who will only hit this season due to an elbow injury, went 1-for-3 with an opposite-field, two-run home run Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox.

The signings of Yamamoto and Ohtani have made the Dodgers clear-cut title favorites.

But despite being a perennial contender, the Dodgers have not reached the World Series since they won it in 2020, the season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Castaneda believes the team has what it takes to get to the World Series again, and hopefully win it this time.

“We’re expecting a World Series. The team has to be clicking. Everybody has to be going on all cylinders,” Castaneda said.

That has been the sentiment among many Dodgers fans – a World Series win is now the expectation – and Yamamoto’s impressive debut only strengthened that belief

“I’ve seen a lot of great Dodgers teams,” Beskind said. “The boys of summer all the way up through today. I wouldn’t say I’m any more excited than any other year. Yeah, I expect us to win it all. Anything less will be disappointing.”

James Lotts(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

James Lotts expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Lotts interned for Times Media Group, where he has been published in a number of different newspapers and magazines in Arizona and Southern California.