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Rays designate struggling Yoshi Tsutsugo for assignment

The slugger from Japan didn’t produce much since signing with the Rays for the 2020 season.
Yoshi Tsustugo produced little since coming over from Japan last season.
Yoshi Tsustugo produced little since coming over from Japan last season. [ CHARLIE RIEDEL | AP ]
Published May 11
Updated May 12

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays decided they had seen enough of Yoshi Tsutsugo and on Tuesday designated the struggling first baseman/designated hitter for assignment.

The 29-year-old Tsustugo has produced little since coming over from Japan last season, hitting .187 with eight homers, 29 RBIs and a .628 OPS in 77 games, including just .167-0-5-.462 this year. Plus, he has struck out nearly 30 percent of the time.

The Rays said they made the move now since Tsustugo’s playing time was going to be further reduced with Ji-Man Choi close to returning from the injured list to take over as the primary first baseman and other options available at Triple-A, with infielder Kevin Padlo called up Tuesday.

“Certainly not the outcome that we had in mind, that Yoshi had in mind,” general manager Erik Neander said. “I don’t want to close the book on him, but I do think that the opportunity wasn’t going to be there for him to turn himself around right now.

“I think it requires some regular playing time that wasn’t going to be there. So I can’t necessarily pinpoint one particular thing, but I do believe that there is a better version of Yoshi than is in there right now. But it’s going to require a mental reset of sorts and regular work, which just wasn’t going to be there at the moment.”

Manager Kevin Cash said it was frustrating for all parties that Tsutsugo didn’t perform better and attributed some of his initial struggles to the pandemic issues and restrictions that added to the massive cultural and competitive transition.

“We’re all confident that he’s a major league player,” Cash said. “I feel for Yoshi. We all feel for Yoshi.”

The Rays were optimistic Tsutsugo would do better this season, believing he also dealt with some “tough luck (last year),” Neander said. “But I think things snowballed a little bit over the last several weeks here and (he was) just unable to get out of a tailspin.”

Barring the unlikely event Tsutsugo is claimed on waivers or the Rays work out a trade, he will have the opportunity to become a free agent, getting the remaining $5,494,624 remaining on his original two-year, $12 million (pre-pandemic) deal and the option to sign elsewhere or go back to Japan.

The Rays also offered him the opportunity to go to Triple-A Durham and get regular playing time.

Neander said Tsutsugo was “professional” and “gracious” when they informed him of their decision, and they suggested he take some time to think through his options. A resolution has to be made within seven days.

“We appreciated him for all the effort that he’s put in to this point,” Neander said. “We’d love to have him in Durham. And believe that we can give them the opportunity to get regular at-bats and put him in a position to give them the best chance to get back to the big leagues.”

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