ST. PETERSBURG — Ji-Man Choi had tried switch-hitting as a minor-leaguer earlier in his career, going 6-for-14 hitting right-handed in 2015 at Triple A. He would start batting practice the last couple of seasons swinging right-handed at times, “just messing around,” before going back to his natural lefty swing. After manager Kevin Cash brought it up in conversation during Spring 2.0 camp, Choi took it a little further, taking a few at-bats in a simulated game right-handed.
Then Sunday, in his 251st big-league game, Choi did it when it counted.
And he was quite a hit.
After the Blue Jays switched from righty starter Thomas Hatch to lefty Anthony Kay, Choi switched batter’s boxes. In the third inning, he struck out on four pitches, and didn’t feel all that great doing so.
But he came back up in the sixth and delivered, crushing a 90 mph fastball from Kay over the fence left of centerfield, a blast estimated at 429 feet with an exit velocity of 110 mph. (A combo he never reached as a lefty, per StatCast.)
“Incredible,” Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “He did it years ago in the minors and for him to pick it up in a major-league game and hit a homer to the big part of the field like he did today, I don’t have a comment for it. It is truly incredible. If anyone can do it, it’s Ji-Man. He is a man of many talents.”
Choi said he didn’t put a lot of thought into making the switch to switch-hitting.
“I wasn’t really stressing about it too much,” Choi of South Korea said via translator Steve Nam. “I didn’t want to tell (Jays manager) Charlie (Montoyo) about our little secret. I wanted to keep that to myself. … (Sunday) I just decided. I felt pretty good, so why not?”
So does this mean Choi is officially a switch hitter?
“I still don’t know,” he said. “Maybe.”
Snell saw some good in short outing
He didn’t go deep, and it wasn’t a thing of beauty, but Blake Snell was pleased to get his first outing past him. The 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner threw two shutout innings against the Jays, surrendering three hits and two walks but striking out five while throwing 46 pitches. “There’s a lot I’m happy with,” he said. “I was in tough situations that I put myself in, and I was happy that I got out of both of them. The two walks (were) definitely frustrating. The three hits I’m not upset with at all. … I’ve just got to establish more of my pitches over the plate for strikes. Definitely have to limit the amount of pitches per inning, which I’ll take care of.”
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On Tsutsugo’s song
The Rays made what seemed like a cool move Saturday when outfielder Yoshi Tsutsugo came up to hit, playing the same song that was played — and sung by fans — when he was with Yokohama in Japan. The Trop game-day staff saw it suggested on social media, tracked down a YouTube video to get a good enough version, which includes the phrase “Go! Go! Tsutsugo.” (A Twitter video of the Rays playing it got more than 60,000 views.) But Tsutsugo told the Rays after the game that he would prefer the song not be played here. … Tsutsugo didn’t start Sunday, which had to be disappointing to the NHK network that televised the game in Japan, but he came off the bench in the seventh.
Castillo, Meadows updates
The Rays are not sure when reliever Diego Castillo will rejoin the team after Friday’s birth of his second daughter, with all doing well. The maximum three-day stay on the paternity list ended Sunday, but if Castillo is not ready to return Monday, he could be moved to the family medical or restricted lists. Cash said he is not expecting to see Castillo on Monday, “but it would be a nice surprise if that happens.” … Outfielder Austin Meadows participated — lightly — in a simulated game in Port Charlotte on Sunday, his second day back after missing three-plus weeks following a positive test for the coronavirus, and he will continue to ramp up activities. “He knows he’s behind, and he’s got to catch up a little bit,” Cash said.
The Rays won their team-record-extending ninth straight extra-inning game. … It was their 11th walkoff win since the start of last season, tying Oakland for most in the AL. … Kevin Kiermaier was 0-for-11 before his game-winning triple, the second walkoff hit of his career, the other an infield single in 2015. … Tyler Glasnow, who missed nearly two weeks of camp due to the coronavirus, said he feels healthy and ready going into his first start of the season on Monday. … Cash said Yonny Chirinos, who missed two-plus weeks of Spring 2.0 after a positive test for the virus, is set for his first start on Tuesday.