I’m not sure what to make of it, but I’m sure it’s worth it. Even when shaken up by straight and loose pitches, he doesn’t lose his stance as he has in the past. The bat swings out smoothly.
Yoshitomo Tsutsuka (29), who moved from the Dodgers to the Pirates in August, has continued to gain momentum, hitting a home run for the second consecutive game on September 6 (Japan time), followed by two hits and two runs on the following day, September 7. In 20 games since joining the Pirates, he has recorded seven home runs and 11 of his 14 hits have been long balls, showing his true power (as of September 7). It seems like a lie that until August, when he was with the Rays and Dodgers, he was struggling with a .155 batting average and no home runs. What in the world has changed?
“There are three points of improvement. The first is his response to fastballs. The biggest downside to Tsutsuka is his weakness against fastballs. Immediately after coming to the U.S., it was obvious that he was being pushed around by the fastballs of major league pitchers, which were close to 160 km/h. He was relegated to the minors with the Dodgers. After being demoted to the minors with the Dodgers, he and his coach thoroughly analyzed his hitting form on video. By starting earlier, I was able to wait for the ball at my own timing.
Secondly, I became more aware of the opposite direction (to the left). Tsutsuka was aware that he was a long-distance hitter, so he tended to pull the ball to the right instead of going for it, aiming for a home run. When asked why he didn’t go for it, he said, “It won’t be good for next year. The other team shifted to the right direction based on Tsutsuka’s hitting data, and even hitable hits were easily caught. Since joining the Pirates, he has abandoned his pride and has been hitting the ball in the opposite direction more often. I guess it was the result of a change in his thinking.
Third, his experience in the minors. This was his second year in the U.S., and he spent a lot of time in the minors, where the transportation and food were not of the best quality. The lighting system in the minors was weak and dark. Tsutsuka says that he can ‘see the ball better’ in the brightly lit ballparks of the majors. It seems that his experience in the minors is working in his favor in the majors,” said a sports reporter.
After moving to the majors, even the most accomplished players in Japan are forced to change their baseball style. Ichiro (Mariners) has abandoned the “pendulum swing” that was the symbol of his Orix days, and has reduced the width of his right foot to cope with fastballs. Shohei Ohtani (Angels) has also changed his form from a big leg raise to a no-step approach to hitting. Tsutsuka’s current success can be attributed to the fact that he has adjusted to the differences between Japan and the U.S. and has taken appropriate measures.
A cheap and convenient player
However, the reality is harsh: ……. Even with all of his home runs, it seems likely that Tsutsuka will be out of the lineup. I’m not sure what to make of it,” said Nachi Tomonari, a sports journalist with knowledge of major league baseball.
“The Pirates are in last place in the National League Central Division. The Pirates, who are in a slump, are likely to make a big move in the offseason to bring in some strong players. They can’t make any big moves during the season, so it’s common in the majors to acquire players who are in danger of being out of the lineup to make up for it. Tsutsuka, who failed to produce for the Rays and Dodgers, is another player they acquired to make up for it. Most of his salary is paid by the Rays, who signed him to a two-year contract, and the Pirates pay almost nothing. He was a convenient player to have working for him at a low price.
Although he was hitting a lot of home runs, his batting average was still in the mid-20% range. I can’t say that his performance has been overwhelming. It is a delicate result to judge whether he will stay or not. If he remains on the majors’ 40-man roster, he could get in the way of off-season reinforcements. There is a good chance he will be released. If he is out of the lineup again, it will indeed be tough to get a fourth chance in the majors (after the Rays, Dodgers and Pirates). I wonder if there will be talk of a minor league deal. If he is fired from the Pirates, a return to Japanese baseball will become a reality.
The majors are very serious in their evaluations. It’s not enough to say “I’m doing my best” to stay. The days of Tsutsuka’s fierce appeal will continue.
photo： Kyodo News