Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Out of the Majors for the Third Time and Might Return to Japan | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Out of the Majors for the Third Time and Might Return to Japan

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Tsutsuka often looks tough in the majors (Image: Kyodo News)

No team came forward by the deadline.

On August 4 (Japan time), the Pirates effectively ruled Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (30) out of the 40-man roster, a prerequisite for playing in the Majors, and by August 6, no team had expressed an interest of recruiting him, so he became a free lancer. Tsutsuka started the season as the No. 4 hitter, but due to a back muscle injury, he batted .171 with two home runs and 19 runs batted in.

This is the third time Tsutsuka has been ruled out of the majors; the Rays, who had signed him to a two-year, $12 million (about ¥1.31 billion) contract beginning in 2008, ruled him out of the lineup the following May due to poor hitting. He was immediately transferred to the Dodgers, but was demoted to the minors in June. Even with the Pirates, whom he joined in the middle of last season, he was not satisfied with his performance.

Tsutsuka has hit a total of 205 home runs in professional baseball. He is one of Japan’s leading sluggers and played the No. 4 position in the Samurai Japan team. Why couldn’t he make it in the majors?

He was supposed to be one of Japan’s top hitters

He was pushed aside by the powerful fastballs of major league pitchers. Tsutsuka had always been a good hitter in Japan, aiming at breaking pitches, but in the Majors, there were many times when he struck out because he couldn’t time his fastballs correctly. He also had a habit of pulling pitches to the right side of the plate. Even if he hit a good pitch once in a while, the opposing team had a special shift to right, so it was easy to catch him.

Of course, the leaders of the teams that acquired Tsutsuka understood that his weakness was his fastball. However, since he is a top-notch Japanese hitter, they probably expected that he would be able to adjust to it. As expected, I didn’t expect him to go this far. I think Tsutsuka is desperate, but because of his serious nature, he is in a state of anguish that has accelerated his slump.

Tsutsuka does not have many options left if he wants to continue his career. He may return to the minors or the Mexican League to work out with the youngsters and work toward a return to the majors, or he may return to the Japanese baseball world.

He has experience participating in the Dominican Winter League in the off-season of 2003, where he got covered in mud in a less-than-ideal facility. He is probably accustomed to the harsh environment.

No matter how much hope Tsutsuka has and how hard he grits his teeth in the minors, it is unlikely that the majors will take another look at a player who has been out of the lineup three times and is over 30 years old. If he does not receive an offer by the end of this season, a return to Japan will become a realistic possibility. There is also the case of Shogo Akiyama, who signed with Hiroshima this June after a stint in the minors with the Padres failed to bring him back to the majors. However, the situation in Japan is not as easy for Tsutsuka.

The most likely to accept him would be his old club, DeNA. He has played the No. 4 position for a long time, so DeNA would not reject him. However, there is no room for Keita Sano, Austin, Masashi Kuwahara, Shugo Maki, or Soto at first base or outfield, where Tsutsuka plays.

Even if he comes back to Japan, he may warm the bench at this rate. Unless he makes a big appeal from the beginning of his return, he may not get much playing time.

Tsutsuka does not have a bright future whether he stays in the U.S. or returns to Japan. Tsutsuka, the former Samurai Japan captain, is at a crossroads as an athlete.

  • Photo: Kyodo News Kyodo News

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