Should Red Sox breathe a sigh of relief after Yamamoto’s terrible debut?

Should the Red Sox breathe a sigh of relief following Yamamoto’s rocky debut? Originally featured on NBC Sports.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto signing: What's next for Dodgers after landing Japanese  ace? - DraftKings Network

No negativity. The week continues, as we take a break from bashing the Red Sox to look at some encouraging developments. On Tuesday, we looked at five young players with breakout potential. On Wednesday, we investigated the prospect of improved defense. Today, we’ll look at an offseason miss that could have been a godsend.

When Red Sox chairman Tom Werner made the much-discredited vow of a full-throttle winter, it’s now apparent what he meant: “We’ll make a run at Yoshinobu Yamamoto and nobody else.”

The Red Sox passed up Yamamoto not just because they couldn’t match his asking price of $325 million, but also because they weren’t competitive enough on the field to warrant his serious consideration.

What’s the saying about the best deals being those you don’t make?

After a difficult spring training that had the Dodgers sweating a little about the big financial commitment they had made to an inexperienced pitcher, the perspiration in L.A.’s front office is now cascading into buckets following the right-hander’s debut.

Yamamoto made one of MLB’s most anticipated debuts since countryman Shohei Ohtani first toed the rubber for the Angels in 2018… and it didn’t go well.

Yamamoto just lasted one inning, giving up four hits and five runs, not to mention a lot of loud contact. For the record, former Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts grounded Yamamoto’s first pitch, a 97 mph fastball straight down the middle, to left for a leadoff single.

Why is there so much anticipation for this? It only took nine pitches for the Padres to score with Jake Cronenworth’s two-run triple into the right field corner, and Yamamoto required 43 arduous deliveries to finish the inning, by which time the Padres had batted around. Yamamoto struck out only 23 batters, walked one, and threw a wild pitch. He struck out two, but his ERA now sits at 45.00.

Needless to say, no one saw this coming, even the Red Sox. When the offseason began, with expectations of Yamamoto collecting $180-$200 million in free agency, the Red Sox figured they had a chance to dominate the competition.

But then the industry realized that 25-year-old aces don’t come along very frequently, and the unusual circumstances surrounding Yamamoto’s availability seemed to drive up the price minute by minute, day by day. By decision time, he had equal $325 million offers from the Dodgers and Mets, as well as $300 million from the Yankees.

It’s unclear how far the Red Sox were willing to go, but it doesn’t really matter. Yamamoto met with the Dodgers and New York teams several times, but the Red Sox were never considered big players.

And perhaps that is a good thing. Yamamoto once again exhibited a worrying inability to miss bats in spring training, compiling an 8.38 ERA and surrendering a terrible 19 baserunners in just 9.2 innings.

Cronenworth pounded a hanging splitter, Ha-Seong Kim fired a 95 mph fastball 360 feet for a sacrifice drive, Luis Campusano sliced a 2-2 curveball over the third base bag for a bad-luck double, and Tyler Wade ripped a fat cutter to left for an RBI single to round off the scoring. The Padres batted four balls at 96 mph or above.

It was only one game, but what a disappointment. Sticking with Japanese pitchers making the transition to the big leagues, Ohtani won his debut with six effective innings against the A’s in 2018, Masahiro Tanaka beat the Blue Jays with seven solid innings in 2014, and Red Sox fans will remember Daisuke Matsuzaka’s sparkling debut against the Royals in 2007, when he struck out ten and allowed only one run.

The Dodgers must now hope Yamamoto follows in the footsteps of Yu Darvish, who gave up five runs in his rough Rangers debut but had a 2.18 ERA by the end of April.

Perhaps Yamamoto will have a similar turnaround. Two of the 15 pitchers who allowed at least five runs in their first inning or less went on to become All-Stars: Al Downing and Tom Hume. Of course, neither of them was worth $325 million, and Hume built his reputation as a reliever.

Imagine the reaction if Yamamoto made such a debut in a Red Sox uniform. We’d be crying about a $325 million bust and questioning how their rotation could compete if he wasn’t an ace.

It’s certainly possible, if not likely, that his debut will be forgotten in the midst of an otherwise stellar rookie season. But until then, the Red Sox won’t have to worry about him righting the ship.

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