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Rays’ Yoshi Tsutsugo safe at home in Japan, eager to return

Signed in December, the free agent was barely a month into acclimating himself when camps were closed.

The abrupt halt to spring training on March 12 and subsequent delay to the season caused a disruption for every player in the major leagues.

Perhaps none more than Rays outfielder Yoshi Tsutsugo.

Signed from Japan in December, Tsutsugo was barely a month into getting acclimated when camps were closed.

There was a new team, and teammates, to learn. Coaching. Language. Style of play. Level of competition. Opponents. Food. Customs. Culture. And more.

Tsutsugo, 28, initially stayed in Port Charlotte after the shutdown, then moved into a rental house in St. Petersburg. But when it became clear the delay was going to be extensive, he decided in late March to return to Japan.

Related: Rays minor-leaguer Blake Bivens shares details of family tragedy

And, he sends word, he is safe at home.

“It has been about a month since returning to Japan, and I have been home ever since," Tsutsugo said, via Dai Sugiura of the Wasserman agency, in a recent email. “I have been training at home and trying to stay safe."

Tsutsugo has stayed active six days a week through hitting, throwing and workout sessions with Seiya Sano of the Rays’ staff. He checks in twice a week via phone calls with Shin Fukuda of the athletic training staff, reporting that he feels great and is eager to get back on the field.

“From all accounts, everything is going well," Rays general manager Erik Neander said. “These guys are professionals. The situation we find ourselves in is unique. It’s different. It’s not anything we have experienced before. They know how to train, they know how to prepare, they know how to make the most of a situation with what’s available to them.

“... He’s doing everything that he needs to do in order to be ready whenever the bell rings here to come back and to get things ramped back up here."

The “whenever” is the biggest unknown, with the latest plan targeting the potential opening of training camps in June and starting play in July.

Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (25), left, celebrates his solo home run with Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Willy Adames (1) during the fourth inning of a spring training game against the Boston Red Sox Monday, Feb. 24, 2020 in Port Charlotte. [CHRIS URSO | Times]

That could lead to some logistical issues, such as whether Tsutsugo will be allowed to return to the United States under whatever are the latest international travel regulations and if he will have to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving, which could impact the decision on when to return. The Rays could face similar issues with Ji-Man Choi, who went home to Korea, though coronavirus cases have been significantly reduced there and most restrictions eased.

“So much depends on the timing — when they decide to come back and what things look like within this country and the guidelines that are in place," Neander said. “At any point here, as we work towards ramping up whenever that may be, it’s going to be because the safety and health of this country and the world is in a more optimistic place than it is today.

“You can’t really be definitive in terms of how they’ll need to be handled when they come back in. We’re just going to follow the appropriate safety protocols at the time we need them back, and they’re going to want to be back."

Tsutsugo had made a solid impression on the Rays during camp with his play on the field, getting off to a hot start at the plate before cooling, looking solid in leftfield and better than expected at third base.

Even more so, he impressed teammates, coaches and team officials with how well he was fitting in, showing a sense of humor, respect and the potential for a leadership role.

Related: For Rays and MLB, plans to start season are taking shape

“I learned a lot and was really enjoying my time during my first spring training," Tsutsugo said. “Spending time with the players, coaches and staff, I am really grateful for each person, and (they) have made my transition to the states very easy."

Going home allowed Tsutsugo to spend time with his wife, young daughter and the rest of his family, including a twin sister. He played 10 seasons playing with the Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars before signing a two-year, $12 million contract with the Rays, who also had to pay a $2.4 million fee to Yokohama, and has many friends there and in his hometown of Hashimoto.

But, in what is a universal sentiment, Tsutsugo made it clear — like Choi, Blake Snell, Willy Adames and others — he can’t wait to get back to playing baseball.

“I was really enjoying my time at camp," Tsutsugo said. “I want to see everyone and play the game of baseball with my teammates as soon as possible. I really look forward to the day when we will be able to play again, and I’m excited to play in my first big-league season."