Yoshida crushes first home run for Red Sox
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If his showing in the World Baseball Classic didn't already turn fans into believers, Masataka Yoshida showed what he can do with the bat in a Red Sox uniform during Boston’s 7-5 loss to Atlanta in the Spring Training finale Tuesday.
In the bottom half of the first, Yoshida took a fastball from Charlie Morton in a 1-1 count and tattooed it to deep right-center, clearing the 420-foot sign over the Fenway South triangle with room to spare. The two-run shot was the newcomer's first in Grapefruit League action and showed how valuable Yoshida can be to Boston's lineup.
"I'm always thinking about hitting a line drive to center field, so what I did was really good, I think," Yoshida said of his home run through translator Keiichiro Wakabayashi.
Naturally, manager Alex Cora was pleased to see Yoshida take a veteran hurler with a full arsenal of pitches deep.
"He got to a fastball," Cora said of Yoshida's homer. "He's one of the toughest ones, [Morton], because of the variety of his pitches. ... He's a tough one, and [Yoshida] got to that one. Then, the walk was a good sign. He understands what he needs to do in the batter's box and [I’m] excited to see him perform this season and see where it takes us."
If you happened to miss the World Baseball Classic, Yoshida was an integral part of Team Japan's championship run. Batting cleanup behind star Shohei Ohtani, Yoshida led the entire tournament in RBIs with 13, and hit .409 over seven games.
Throughout the tournament, he posted a 1.258 OPS, smashed two homers and struck out just once in 22 at-bats. His production led to an all-World Baseball Classic selection.
"[The World Baseball Classic] was a really great experience," Yoshida said. "I was really happy to represent my team."
Cora said he’s been impressed with Yoshida’s receptiveness to coaching, his intelligence and how he carries that “clutch gene.”
"I think he's still learning," Cora said. "Scouting report is going to come into play. He studies. [Hitting coach Peter Fatse] and the group have done an amazing job giving him direction before at-bats and before games. He's a smart individual. He understands. One of the things I notice from the tournament and some at-bats here, even the handful he had before he left, with men in scoring position, he knows what he wants to do. He hits the ball in the air, he hits it the other way -- he cashes in in those situations, and that's great."
Now, the 29-year-old is ready to carry his hitting prowess over into the Major League regular season with his new club -- one that is intrigued and excited for what he can bring.
"Everybody welcomed me back to the team," Yoshida said. "So I'm really happy to rejoin the team."
And Yoshida is no stranger to playing for a winning culture. Before he helped Team Japan capture a Classic title, he led the Orix Buffaloes to their first Japan Series title in 26 years in 2022. He said he is excited to join a club where success is expected.
"It's a real honor to play for the Boston Red Sox because they are a really traditional team, and a lot of times [have ended the season as] World Series champions," Yoshida said. "The only thing I'm focusing on is [trying] to play hard every day and contribute to the team winning."
Yoshida signed a five-year, $90 million deal this offseason before showing off his bat on a world stage. Across seven Nippon Professional Baseball seasons (762 games), Yoshida carried a .327 batting average, slugged 133 home runs, drew 421 walks and posted a .960 OPS with a .421 OBP. In 2022, the outfielder drove in 89 runs in 121 games while smashing 21 homers and drawing 82 walks.
Yoshida, just as all first-year players do, will have to get accustomed to the rigorous schedule and travel of Major League Baseball. He said the process is coming along nicely with the help of the team, but it will get ramped up when regular season games get going this week.
"I ask my teammates, coaching staff and trainers how to build up during the season," Yoshida said. "Also, I'd like to experience [the changes in my own way]."