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Yoshinobu Yamamoto the next Dodgers ace? Scouts praise his skill, question his durability

BUNKYO CITY, JAPAN - MARCH 12: Yoshinobu Yamamoto #18 of Team Japan reacts.

As the center fielder for Team Japan in last spring’s World Baseball Classic, Lars Nootbaar had a unique view of the jaw-dropping four-pitch repertoire of Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the Japanese right-hander who agreed to a 12-year, $325-million deal with the Dodgers on Thursday.

Nootbaar, the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder whose mother is Japanese, marveled at the way Yamamoto’s fastball, which sits in the 94-95-mph range and touches 97 mph with good ride from a lower release point, seemed to “jump out of his hand.”

He described Yamamoto’s split-fingered fastball, which is thrown between 86-92 mph with a 10-inch horizontal break and a late 32-inch drop, as “really gross.” And then there was the big 77-mph curve, which averages 66 inches of vertical drop, and the 93-mph cut-fastball with a slight right-to-left break and an 18-inch drop.

“As a hitter, you try to eliminate so many things and try to focus on one, but with him, he has so many weapons, and they all move so much,” said Nootbaar, the former El Segundo High School and USC standout. “He’s a special pitcher, for sure.”

Read more: Hernández: Shohei Ohtani’s $680-million loan to Dodgers made Yoshinobu Yamamoto deal possible

Nootbaar relished being Yamamoto’s teammate on Japan’s WBC-winning club, and the two became such good friends that Nootbaar traveled to Japan for one of Yamamoto’s playoff starts in late-October and they played golf and hung out together in Southern California this winter.

Nootbaar will likely see Yamamoto again in late March but from a different perspective, one he is not looking forward to as much — the batter’s box in Chavez Ravine, where the Cardinals will open their 2024 season against the Dodgers. Of particular concern for Nootbar will be Yamamoto’s nasty splitter.

“It’s just not fair to have a pitch that moves as much as it does and is as heavy as it seems at the velocity he’s throwing it,” Nootbaar said. “If you have a guy throwing a 91-93-mph fastball, and his splitter is at 82-84 mph, you have a chance because you don’t have to cheat to get to the fastball.

“But when you have a guy who can throw as hard as he does, and you throw the splitter at different velocities, it’s really not fair. Then he’s got that big breaker and the cutter that he plays off those. You’re just kind of at a…

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