1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Rays

How Yoshi Tsutsugo made most of first game with Rays

What Japanese outfielder did on the field, and how he handled himself, all added up to a good spring debut.
Yoshi Tsutsugo of the Tampa Bay Rays gets his first career hit of spring training with the Tampa Bay Rays during a game against the New York Yankees at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL on February 23, 2020.
Yoshi Tsutsugo of the Tampa Bay Rays gets his first career hit of spring training with the Tampa Bay Rays during a game against the New York Yankees at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL on February 23, 2020. [ KEVIN SABITUS | Tampa Bay Rays ]
Published Feb. 23, 2020
Updated Feb. 24, 2020

PORT CHARLOTTE — Yoshi Tsutsugo’s first game with the Rays was a hit.

A sharply hit single off the glove of Yankees pitcher David Hale in his first at-bat, a walk, good reactions to limited action in leftfield, and the best line of the day.

Asked about a fly ball to left-center that he was tracking but Kevin Kiermaier raced over to catch, Tsutsugo said, via interpreter: “I’ve never seen someone run that fast besides me in the outfield.’’

Related: What do you do when your career is stalled? Hope for a trade to the Rays.

Tsustugo’s arrival in camp has been a big deal, from curiosity in the clubhouse about how he’ll do, scrutiny from Japanese and local media, and attention from fans, including a couple who came from Japan on their honeymoon in gear from his former Yokohama team.

With the stadium sound system playing Phil Collins’ Sussudio as a walkup song, Tsutsugo considered Sunday his first lesson in the differences of playing in the majors, such as the strike zone, and movement and velocity of pitches. “There’s a lot of differences I need to verify with my own eyes and try to learn as much as I can before the season opens,’’ he said, via interpreter Louis Chao.

But his boss and new teammates were already impressed.

“He had a pretty good first day in the United States with the Rays,’’ Kiermaier said, “and I think we’re going to be seeing a lot of that for quite a while.’’

Kiermaier used the interpreter between innings and hand signals on the field to help Tsutsugo with positioning and said he was very receptive to input.

Related: Rays’ Stuart Sternberg on Yoshi Tsutsugo’s impact, mobile ticketing, keeping team

Kiermaier had plenty more to say about Tsutusgo, noting “He has a sneaky, pretty dang good arm. .. He’s great. He’s a worker. … I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people with what he’s capable of (on defense). … He has the ability to find the barrel. He was taking good pitches that weren’t strikes. He looks like he has a very good approach. … He’s going to fit right in with all the guys, and he’s done a great job so far.’’

Manager Kevin Cash said the success at the plate was more important for Tsutsugo to feel good about himself than team officials, pointing out smaller good things, such as how Tsutsugo hit the cutoff man on a throw from the leftfield corner and showed good awareness in his positioning.

Tsutsugo is scheduled to be the designated hitter on Monday against Boston.

Game details: Rays 9, Yankees 7

Starter Ryan Yarbrough felt he nibbled a bit and could have finished batters off quicker in a 21-pitch, one-hit opening inning, but said, “For the first outing of the year I’ll take that every time.'' Diego Castillo was sharp in the second and Andrew Kittredge “dominating” — Cash’s word — in striking out the side in the third. … The Rays (1-1) rallied for three runs with two outs in the eighth to win, Randy Arozarena, who doubled Sunday, delivering another big hit with a two-run triple. Then he hustled home when Yankees catcher Wynston Sawyer made an errant toss over his pitcher’s head. “He seems like a very heads-up player,’’ Cash said. … Prospect Shane McClanahan pitched better than his line of giving up four runs in a four-hit, one-walk sixth.

Family affair for Alvarado

Reliever Jose Alvarado was excited Sunday to throw to hitters for the first time since his August season-ending injury, so much so he wore his full uniform for the 11:20 a.m. live batting practice session on a back field. He was out of the zone a little bit early, then got locked in and looked sharp, likely to advance to a game Wednesday. "Everything was very good,'' he said. Alvarado had an additional motivation. Sunday was first time his parents, who recently moved to Florida from Venezuela, got to see him throw as a big-league pitcher. "I’m very happy my family is here,'' he said. "I can think about only baseball.’’


Brendan McKay had no issues with his previously sore left shoulder during a bullpen session and is likely to advance to live batting practice, Cash said. … Attendance was 6,330. … Pete Fairbanks didn’t find that much novelty in Saturday being his first big-league spring game after 21 regular-season appearances in 2019: “It was the same Red Sox guys I faced four times last year it’s just at Fenway South instead of the Fenway with the worse visiting locker room up north.’’ … Charlie Morton is set for his first spring start Tuesday, Blake Snell Wednesday and Tyler Glasnow Thursday (in the home game). … This is meetings week for Rays, with a Sunday morning session on domestic violence prevention, Monday with Baseball Assistance Team, Wednesday with the players union, Saturday for media training.

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.