April 19, 2024

Yoshinobu Yamamoto did not feel comfortable pitching out of the stretch on Wednesday, which was unfortunate seeing as the new Dodgers right-hander spent most of his rocky three-inning stint against the Chicago White Sox with runners on base.

Yamamoto, who signed a 12-year, $325-million deal with the Dodgers in December, was tagged for five earned runs and six hits in a 12-9 Cactus League victory in Camelback Ranch, striking out four, walking three and throwing only 32 of his 58 pitches for strikes.

He allowed the leadoff man to reach base in each inning, he couldn’t throw his curve for strikes, and he fell behind in far too many counts. About the only bright spot was his nasty 88-mph split-fingered fastball, which he used to finish all four of his strikeouts.

“I was not feeling right [out of the stretch], and that’s something I need to work on, to adjust,” Yamamoto said through an interpreter. “Overall, the numbers weren’t good. There were too many balls and walks. But one good thing was I could try what I wanted to try. I was testing a couple of things, and that was good.”

Yamamoto, who breezed through two scoreless innings against the Texas Rangers in his first Cactus League start on Feb. 28, would not elaborate on what he was working on, but he’ll have one more exhibition start before the team’s season-opening series in South Korea to iron out whatever was troubling him on Wednesday.

“These games are going to happen,” Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes said. “It’s spring training. Guys aren’t always going to have their A stuff, so you have to figure out how to maneuver when they’re figuring things out. I thought he ended up throwing pretty well. Some unlucky breaks out there. A ball off him and some tough hops.”

Paul DeJong hit an RBI infield single off Yamamoto’s leg in a three-run, two-walk first inning. Two White Sox runs scored in the third when Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy failed to glove DeJong’s chopper down the line, a play that was generously ruled a double.

“He’s still a human being,” Barnes said of Yamamoto. “Sometimes you don’t have prestige command like he usually does. But I think it’s good to go through a rough patch. Baseball is not easy. I think he’ll learn from it and we’ll just move on.”

Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman provided the offensive highlight of the day, smashing a grand slam far over the right-field wall in the fourth inning. Shohei Ohtani singled twice, drove in a run and walked ahead of Freeman’s slam.

Wednesday marked the first time that Yamamoto and Ohtani were in the same lineup since last March, when the pair helped Team Japan win the World Baseball Classic.

Ohtani did not play in Yamamoto’s first Cactus League game, but the slugger did make the 20-minute drive to Surprise, Ariz., to watch the 5-foot-10, 176-pound Yamamoto face the Rangers.

“I think Shohei coming here six years ago [with the Angels] and not having a fellow countryman to help support him was different and difficult at times,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “But for Yoshinobu to come here and have a [WBC] teammate, a fellow countryman, kind of show him the ropes and support him … has been great.”

Ohtani, who signed a 10-year, $700-million deal in mid-December, was also part of the Dodgers contingent, along with Mookie Betts, Freeman and Will Smith, that helped recruit Yamamoto to Los Angeles.

“I think it was huge,” Roberts said. “Obviously, when you’re talking about the Japanese player, there’s always speculation — do they want to play with each other? Which no one ever knows. But I certainly believe that when you have a person of Shohei’s caliber saying, ‘We want you here, I want to be a teammate of yours,’ that was a good selling point for Yamamoto.”

Roberts believes Ohtani and Yamamoto will each benefit from having a Japanese teammate.

“I really believe comfort leads to performance and confidence, so to have someone that speaks your language, whether it’s Spanish, English, Japanese, Korean, it just makes things more comfortable and more familiar,” Roberts said. “I believe it’s going to help Shohei more, I really do. Not only Yoshinobu.”

Yamamoto’s unorthodox training methods, which emphasize flexibility, body control and body awareness over strength and include contortionist yoga techniques, handstands and the tossing of a javelin-type device, have been a subject of fascination for his new teammates.

In fact, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Betts, who is about the same size as Yamamoto, started working with Yamamoto’s personal trainer, Yata Sensei, and following some of Yamamoto’s regimen this week.

“I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing — I’m just kind of doing it, and I feel good, so we’ll see,” Betts, 31, said. “The whole thing is interesting. You’re never too old to learn. You’re never too good to learn.

“He’s won, what, three most valuable player awards and three Cy Youngs [in Japan]? I mean, he’s all-world, so why would you not at least be open-minded to it? I’ve got nine years [left on my contract]. I’m gonna make it the best nine years that I can.”

Betts, who hit .307 with a .987 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 39 homers and 107 RBIs and placed second in National League MVP voting last season, doesn’t expect to gain much more power using Yamamoto’s training techniques.

But he could benefit from having a little more flexibility as he transitions from right field to second base this season.

“It’s not like I’m hitting 460-foot homers now, and if I start working out [differently], I may add what, two feet [of distance]?” Betts said. “It’s more important to stay healthy and be the best Mook for these these next nine years, or however long I’ve got.”

Short hops

The defensive struggles of shortstop Gavin Lux, who missed all of last season because of right-knee surgery, continued on Wednesday, Lux bounced two throws to first base that Freeman was able to scoop, preventing two errors. Lux committed throwing errors on the first two grounders he fielded in exhibition play. … Reliever Joe Kelly threw a scoreless fifth inning, allowing one hit, striking out one and walking one, but Ryan Brasier gave up a two-run homer to Eloy Jimenez in the fourth.

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