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Dodgers pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, seen in the bullpen during spring training baseball workouts Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Phoenix, made his spring training debut Wednesday. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
Dodgers pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, seen in the bullpen during spring training baseball workouts Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Phoenix, made his spring training debut Wednesday. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
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SURPRISE, Ariz. — When Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s first duel against a major-league hitter ended, Shohei Ohtani marked the occasion with polite applause from the Dodgers’ dugout.

Even Ohtani did not want to miss the occasion of his countryman’s first appearance against a major-league opponent. Ohtani made the half-hour trip to Wednesday’s road game, even though he was not playing against the Texas Rangers and already had completed his work day.

“I was happy; I never thought he would come,” Yamamoto said of Ohtani through an interpreter.

Yamamoto earned the golf clap from his friend with a six-pitch strikeout of the Rangers’ Marcus Semien. After Evan Carter followed with a single, Yamamoto coaxed a double-play grounder from Wyatt Langford.

The right-hander started his second inning with a strikeout of Nathaniel Lowe, retired Jonah Heim on a fly ball to left field and ended his short day with another strikeout, this one against Leody Taveras.

What was Ohtani’s assessment when he whispered into Yamamoto’s ear after the second inning was complete?

“Eh, so-so,” Yamamoto joked.

The 19-pitch day – with 16 strikes and three strikeouts – was as tidy as the Dodgers could have hoped. Before the game, Manager Dave Roberts said the important thing was just getting his star pitcher on the mound and finding something of a comfort zone. He got much more than that.

“I don’t think it could have gone better,” Roberts said. “He got to use his entire pitch mix. He was pounding the strike zone, he got a lot of swing and miss, he was efficient. For us, Shohei making his debut (Tuesday), Yoshinobu making his debut today, it’s very, very exciting times right now.”

Roberts already has said that he is targeting Yamamoto’s first regular-season outing for the March 20-21 games in South Korea against the San Diego Padres.

“For today, I’m kind of relieved,” Yamamoto said. “But let’s see how I do as I get more innings.”

Consider the $325 million man well on his way, showing the fastball Roberts raved about earlier in the day. Yamamoto also threw a cut fastball, a curveball and a split-finger pitch.

“The fastball command is the most impressive thing for me,” Roberts said. “He can go glove side, he can go arm side, he can go down, he can go up. For a pitcher to be able to throw the fastball and all the different quadrants, it just opens everything else up.”

Dodgers hitters already have seen the full arsenal, with first baseman Freddie Freeman raving about a live batting practice session earlier this spring.

“He doesn’t even have to throw that hard with the command he has,” Freeman said at the time. “It’s the command plus the stuff that makes him the most sought-after guy (as a free agent this winter) – it makes a whole lot of sense.

“It’s just a great combination. Real glad he’s in this locker room.”

INJURY CONCERN

Third baseman Max Muncy was hit by a Cody Bradford pitch in the first inning and even though he remained in the game, it was only temporary as he departed before his next at-bat.

The Dodgers diagnosed Muncy with a left-hand contusion and Roberts said it was along one of Muncy’s knuckles. An X-ray is scheduled for Thursday.

“He was scheduled to be down (Thursday), regardless,” Roberts said. “He wanted to keep playing defense, which is a good thing. It just started to swell up so he started to lose a little strength in the hand, but I’m hopeful it’s not going to be too serious.”

FREEWAY-BOUND

Encouraged after pitching in a live batting practice session Tuesday, right-hander Walker Buehler estimated that he might make his first game appearance during the March 24-26 Freeway Series against the Angels.

Buehler had Tommy John surgery in 2022, had hoped to return late last season and then got off to a slow start this spring.

“I want to be ready at the end of the year, and if that means I can’t be ready at the beginning, that’s kind of the option or the choice we have to make,” Buehler said Wednesday. “I’ve seen a lot lately. Everything that’s been written about me is that it’s not going well, and I don’t think that’s true. There’s just boxes I gotta check. I feel good about it.”

No timetable for a return to a regular-season game has been set. With Buehler making his first spring appearance in late March, a normal spring ramp up means he likely would not pitch in a game until May at the earliest.

AROUND THE BASES

Ohtani will take live batting practice on a back field Thursday morning and is next scheduled to play Friday night at home against the Cleveland Guardians. … After signing a one-year deal earlier this week, utility man Kiké Hernandez is expected to start in center field on Friday during his first game of the spring.

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