Column: Dodgers pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto looks to make quick adjustment to majors

Dodgers pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, center, adjusts his cap as he talks with teammates and staff on the field.
Dodgers pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, center, adjusts his cap as he talks with teammates and staff on the field during the first day of spring training on Friday.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Listed by the Dodgers at 5-foot-10, Yoshinobu Yamamoto is small on paper. The most expensive pitcher in baseball history might be even smaller in person.

“He’s your height,” a colleague told me after watching me stand a couple of feet to the right of Yamamoto on Sunday, when he addressed reporters for the first time this spring training.

I’m 5-8, according to my driver’s license.

For what it’s worth, I thought Yamamoto was a couple of inches taller than me, making him a legitimate 5-10.


That would still make the 25-year-old Yamamoto considerably shorter than the other pitchers the Dodgers have in camp. The relatively undersized Walker Buehler looked like a giant when standing next to Yamamoto the other day.

“Everyone has really strong-looking bodies,” Yamamoto said in Japanese.

Walker Buehler, who is heading into a contract year, is confident he can be a dominant pitcher for the Dodgers coming off his second Tommy John surgery.

Feb. 10, 2024

How Yamamoto uses his less-imposing body to generate fastball velocities in the high 90s is a source of fascination in the clubhouse.

“I’m excited to see somebody [with] Yamamoto’s frame throw 100,” reliever Blake Treinen said. “It’s crazy to me.”

Manager Dave Roberts compared Yamamoto with a former teammate from his own playing days, Tim Lincecum. The 5-foot-11 Lincecum won two Cy Young Awards with the San Francisco Giants.

Buehler offered the same comparison.

“We’ve seen a lot of examples of those guys,” Buehler said. “Tim Lincecum is the first guy you think of, and a lot of people kind of followed that mold, I guess.”

Yamamoto’s lack of size didn’t stop the Dodgers from signing the right-hander to a 12-year, $325-million contract. In each of his last three seasons with the Orix Buffaloes, Yamamoto was named the most valuable player of the Pacific League and the winner of the Sawamura Award, the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award.


Yamamoto experienced discomfort in his elbow as an 18-year-old rookie, which led him to adopting a training regimen to protect his arm. As part of that program, he started throwing a javelin.

Yamamoto’s javelin throwing has become a source of some lighthearted humor.

“I told him he needs to teach me how to do the javelin,” Buehler said.

Clayton Kershaw, who will miss the first half of the season to recover from a major shoulder operation, cracked, “Maybe I need to learn the javelin to come back.”

Dodgers pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto (18) follows through as teammates watch from the shade during a workout Friday in Phoenix.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Asked if his teammates have questioned him about his javelin, Yamamoto smiled.

“It seems like pretty much everyone knows about it,” Yamamoto said. “When I’m working out, I often feel their gazes.”

The Dodgers plan for Yamamoto to start a game in their season-opening, two-game series against the San Diego Padres in South Korea, according to sources familiar with the situation not authorized to speak publicly.

Yamamoto will prepare for the game in a looser environment than what he experienced in Japan, one that will allow him to better incorporate his unorthodox training methods.


“In Japan, everyone does the same thing on the menu one by one,” Yamamoto said. “Here, it’s not completely free, but it’s somewhere between individual and team workouts.”

Yamamoto knows he is training for a season that will be more grueling than any he’s previously experienced, as he will transition from pitching once a week in Japan to pitching once every five or six days for the Dodgers.

He will also have to get used to a slicker ball.

“I can somewhat feel the difference,” Yamamoto said. “But the rosin is also different than it is in Japan and works well with the balls here.”

Yamamoto said he encountered trouble throwing his splitter on Sunday in his second bullpen session of the spring, but added, “I think I’ll adjust quickly.”

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Yamamoto’s latest bullpen session attracted a crowd of about 50 front-office executives, coaches and teammates, including Shohei Ohtani.

“All of a sudden, I noticed I was the only one still pitching,” he said with a chuckle, recalling how the pitchers on the neighboring mounds finished throwing before him.


This won’t be the last time he’s the center of attention.

Yamamoto is small in physical stature, but the Dodgers are counting on him to be a Goliath.