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Yoshinobu Yamamoto throws 2 impressive, scoreless innings in MLB exhibition debut for Dodgers

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Yoshinobu Yamamoto struck out three batters over two scoreless innings in his exhibition debut on Wednesday, giving a glimpse into why the Los Angeles Dodgers believe the Japanese right-hander can become a big league ace,

Yamamoto opened by striking out Texas Rangers All-Star Marcus Semien on six pitches, then gave up Evan Carter's single before Wyatt Langford grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Yamamoto started the second by striking out Nathaniel Lowe on three pitches and retiring Jonah Heim on a flyout to left. Working with a long, deliberate windup and a fastball that hovered in the mid-90s, Yamamoto ended his outing by striking out Leody Taveras on four pitches.

He threw 16 of 19 pitches for strikes, showing the impeccable command that made him a star in Japan.

Lowe and Taveras took particularly weak swings on strike three, highlighting Yamamoto's dominance.

The 25-year-old right-hander has been the less-publicized part of a $1 billion offseason investment by the Dodgers into a pair of Japanese stars. Los Angeles signed Shohei Ohtani to a record $700 million, 10-year contract in December while Yamamoto finalized his $325 million, 12-year deal a few weeks later.

Ohtani has played six seasons in Major League Baseball with the Los Angeles Angels, winning two AL MVP awards and making three All-Star teams. Yamamoto is making his debut in the U.S. this season, though his recent performances in Japan have been phenomenal.

Listed at 5-foot-10, Yamamoto has been Japan's most dominant pitchers over the past several seasons, with a 16-6 record and a 1.21 ERA for the Orix Buffaloes in 2023. He has a career 1.72 ERA in Japan in nearly 1,000 innings. His six-pitch repertoire includes a dependable splitter, an effective four-seam fastball and a vicious curveball.

The Dodgers believe he has the talent to be a staff ace in the U.S. and his presence will be vital in 2024 while Ohtani — a rare two-way star — recovers from an elbow injury. Ohtani will hit in 2024 but isn't expected to pitch until 2025.

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AP Sports Writer Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB

David Brandt, The Associated Press