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Yoshi Tsutsugo-Kenta Maeda meeting: Two flyouts and a dinner date

Rays Journal: Former Japanese league standouts squared off as Rays beat Twins. Also, Joe Ryan impresses.
Former Japanese league stars Yoshi Tsutsugo, left, and Kenta Maeda, right, met again in Port Charlotte Sunday, facing each other in the Rays-Twins spring training game.
Former Japanese league stars Yoshi Tsutsugo, left, and Kenta Maeda, right, met again in Port Charlotte Sunday, facing each other in the Rays-Twins spring training game. [ Associated Press ]
Published Mar. 1, 2020

PORT CHARLOTTE — Yoshi Tsutsugo and Kenta Maeda had a quick chat before Sunday’s game, making plans to get together soon for dinner.

Maeda should probably pick up the bill.

The Twins pitcher carried over his mastery of Tsutsugo from their time in Japan, getting him to fly out twice in the Rays’ 8-2 win.

Playing for Yokohama, Tsutsugo hit only .188 (9-for-48), though with two homers, against Maeda, who pitched for Hiroshima.

Still, Tsutsugo said, via interpreter Louis Chao, “I was very happy. I enjoyed the moment.’’

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Both players downplayed Sunday’s meeting in a spring exhibition, though it was of considerable interest to 20-plus journalists from Japanese outlets.

A regular-season showdown, Tsutsugo said, “of course would be more meaningful.’’

Before the game, Maeda joked with Tsutsugo and told him he’d throw a changeup on the first pitch, but instead came with a fastball that Tsutsugo took for a strike. “I was waiting for a change-up,’’ he said with a smile. “So I didn't swing at the fastball.’’

Maeda, 31, said via a Twins interpreter he planned to stay in touch with Tsutsugo, 28, as he makes the transition to the majors.

“We’re still early in spring, so he’s at the point of making adjustments,” Maeda said. “But from what I can see, he’s certainly a power hitter, and he has a lot of power in him.”

Ryan’s hope

Joe Ryan, the Rays’ 2019 minor-league pitcher of the year, enjoyed his first experience starting against big-leaguers, getting Max Kepler to ground out and striking out Mitch Garver and Miguel Sano during a two-inning outing.

Ryan, 23, said he wasn’t nervous, that pitching at the Charlotte Sports Park “kind of felt like my home, which was a good place to be mentally,’’ and that he got help from catcher Mike Zunino, pitching coach Kyle Snyder and the defense.

“It was pretty fun,’’ he said. “Honestly, it’s like, look up, recognize (who is hitting) for a second, then lock in on the glove. I didn’t really think anything else of it.’’

Ryan, who does a swimmer’s style stretch on the mound before each inning, allowed a double to Jorge Polanco in the first, then a two-out double to prospect LaMonte Wade and a long homer to top prospect Royce Lewis in the second.

Manager Kevin Cash said that also showed him something about Ryan, who hopes to continue his climb from Class A last year to the majors this season.

“Talking to him, he seems a pretty confident, polished personality that wasn’t going to get too amped up, and I think he showed that,’’ Cash said. “He left a pitch up to Lewis and he hit it a long way, but it didn’t bother (Ryan) too much. He seemed very mature, that he could take the positives and the negatives out of the outing and go to work the day with them.’’

Game details: Rays 8, Twins 2

Joey Wendle, Zunino and non-roster infielder Dalton Kelly homered for the Rays (5-4-1). … For Zunino, it was a payoff for the offseason work in adjusting has mechanics at the plate after a rough 2019 season. “He’s worked really hard,’’ Cash said. … Cash also praised Wendle, whose homer was to the opposite field. “Backside Wendle is what we’re calling him,’’ Cash said. … Non-roster lefty relief candidates D.J. Snelten and Ryan Sherriff also had impressive outings. … Tsutsugo had another first, moving from left field to left-center as the Rays several times used a four-man outfield alignment, with third baseman Yandy Diaz going to left.

Miscellany

In the annual charity game between the Rays and Twins wives, Madison Lowe (Brandon) hit four homers (one inside the park) and Tobey Kittredge (Andrew) two in a 20-6 win. … Consensus top prospect Wander Franco turned 19 Sunday. Think about that. … Lefty reliever Jose Alvarado not only threw more strikes and looked in better form in Saturday night’s game after some mechanical adjustments, but was clocked at 97-99 mph. … Tsutsugo won’t travel to either of the next two games, Cash said, returning to the lineup Wednesday at home. … With the teams splitting the first two games, Friday’s spring series finale will determine the winner of the Knutson Classic, named for Rays press box attendant, and Minnesota native, Dukes Knutson.