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What we learned from Dodgers vs. Padres in Korea: Bad debut for MLB’s top-paid pitcher, sloppy defense, more

The San Diego Padres defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 15-11 on Thursday morning (box score), splitting Major League Baseball’s season-opening two-game series in Seoul, South Korea. In between the games, an off-the-field scandal took over the headlines when Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter was accused of stealing millions of dollars from the Dodgers superstar to pay gambling debts.

The Padres and Dodgers will now return stateside and resume their seasons on Opening Day (March 28) with 1-1 records.

Since both games started in the early morning on the east coast, we here at CBS Sports felt it would be helpful to our audience to provide a handful of takeaways from the Seoul Series. 

Below, then, you’ll find five talking points to catch you up on matters.

1. Yamamoto struggles in MLB debut

It’s fair to write that Thursday’s outing is not what the Dodgers had in mind when they signed right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto to a 12-year pact worth $325 million. 

Yamamoto, who authored a brilliant career in Japan, uncharacteristically suffered through command woes on Thursday morning. In turn, he allowed five runs on four hits,  a walk, and a hit batsman. (He struck out a pair of batters as well.) According to the research of Eric Stephen of SB Nation, Yamamoto’s five runs surrendered in an inning of work represented the most by a debuting Dodgers starter in club history.

There’s no sense making too much of Thursday’s outing, especially since the most likely explanation — besides it being a single game — is that Yamamoto is still in the process of adjusting to the differences between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball. Those include the pitch clock, a clustered schedule, and a different ball — one that provides a worse natural grip, if pitchers who have used both are to be trusted.

In other words, it’s worth giving Yamamoto more time to adapt.

2. Ohtani appears unbothered by controversy

You may have heard by now that Shohei Ohtani’s long-time interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, was fired following Wednesday’s game amid theft and illegal gambling allegations. Mizuhara was replaced on Thursday by Will Ireton, formerly Kenta Maeda’s interpreter during his time in Los Angeles, according to Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic

Despite that change, and despite the at-times head-swirling nature of the 24-hour news cycle, Ohtani showed no signs of being distracted on Thursday.

Rather, Ohtani went 1 for 5 with an RBI and nearly delivered both his first home run of the season and his first home run as a member of the Dodgers organization. Alas, the ball fell short of the bleachers, leaving Ohtani to collect a sacrifice fly for his troubles.

3. Merrill records first knocks

Yamamoto wasn’t the only player to make his first MLB appearance during this series. Jackson Merrill, a converted infielder now starting in center for the Padres, also checked off some firsts in Seoul. On Thursday, he notched both his first career MLB hit and his first career MLB extra-base hit. Here’s the latter:

Merrill was ranked by CBS Sports this spring as the 12th-best prospect in the minors. Here’s part of our writeup: “Merrill connected on more than 80% of his swings last season, resulting in a cumulative .277/.326/.444 slash line across High- and Double-A. His ability to put the bat on the ball is his top selling point. He does have some power, but it’s almost exclusively to his pull side.”

4. Betts delivers season’s first home run

Dodgers shortstop Mookie Betts launched the first home run of the season in the fifth inning when he took advantage of a 3-1 fastball from Padres righty Michael King. Betts’ home run reduced the Padres’ lead to two. Furthermore, it guarantees that he’ll be able to reduce something else — his share of emissions — since he won an electric car from Hyundai as part of the South Korean automobile manufacturer’s promotional stunt.

Here’s a look at that sweet, sweet car-winning home run:

Betts has established new career highs in home runs in each of the past two seasons, including 39 in 2023. We’ll see if he can complete the hat trick this year.

5. Gloves did not make trip

There are valid reasons for both teams playing sloppy defense during this two-game set, so we’re not here to judge when we write that it wasn’t the most crisp series with the leather. The Padres were charged with a pair of errors on Wednesday, and the Dodgers returned volley by committing several of their own on Thursday, with third baseman Max Muncy having a particularly rough go of things.

Of course, the defensive play that everyone will remember from this series occurred on Wednesday, when Padres first baseman Jake Cronenworth had a ball shoot through his glove:

That’ll do it for MLB’s regular season — well, at least until March 28.

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