Notes: Tsutsugo comfortable; Roe works out

July 6th, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- Before heading back to Japan due to the coronavirus pandemic, the focus for was adjusting to life in the United States.

Among many other things, Tsutsugo had to get adjusted to a different language, the culture and the food, as well as finding a place to live in the area. Oftentimes, those adjustments are the most difficult part of the transition for an international player, especially one who was as established as Tsutsugo was in Japan.

There’s also the adjustments Tsutsugo needed to make on the field. The Japanese slugger was juggling his time between third base and left field, and he was adjusting to a new batting-practice routine and the fact that pitchers in the Majors throw with more velocity than in Japan.

All of that is a tall task, even for a player who had 205 career home runs and five All-Star appearances in Japan. But to Tsutsugo’s credit, he was able to take it all in stride, despite striking out 13 times in 28 Spring Training at-bats.

Now that he’s back and practicing at Tropicana Field, manager Kevin Cash said that it’s obvious that Tsutsugo has an added level of comfort, which will surely help him continue to adjust to life in the Major Leagues.

“His swing is what it is, and it’s really good,” Cash said. “He has special power; he’s got special line-drive ability. I think right now he’s finding his comfort zone with what he likes to do, and we are, for the most part, just going to get out of the way. … We’re trying to create an environment where he drives what he needs and we’ll be there for him whenever he asks for our help.”

During the stoppage, Tsutsugo was able to go back to Japan and spend time with his family. Returning to Japan didn’t interfere with Tsutsugo’s workouts, even with a stay-at-home order in place. What the trip back home did, however, was give Tsutsugo a chance to soak in everything he learned during Spring Training and return with more purpose and comfort.

“I had time to reset and adjust and think about what I could do to be better when I got back,” Tsutsugo said through an interpreter. “Now everything is a lot smoother and everything is going better than back in February and March.

“I think the biggest thing is to be able to practice at The Trop. That’s something I haven't done before, and being able to speak with my teammates again is awesome as well.”

Tsutsugo did acknowledge that the current circumstances are not the ones he hoped for or imagined when he decided to sign a two-year, $12 million deal with the Rays in December. He said he briefly had thoughts about electing not to play in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns, but he ultimately felt that he wanted to help the Rays win a World Series.

The Japanese slugger is expected to play a key role in the middle of the lineup, and his eye-opening batting practices at The Trop have served as a reminder of his power. Tsutsugo will continue to get reps at third base and left field, and he should get enough reps at both positions before Opening Day on July 23 or 24.

“I want to be able to represent myself on the field, perform well and be able to motivate other people that are suffering through the virus,” he said.

Roe spotted at workout
Chaz Roe was one of the five players media members haven’t seen on the field over the first couple of workouts, but the right-hander took the field for the first time on Monday. Roe, who wore a mask during the entire workout, played catch with pitching coach Kyle Snyder and was able to interact with some teammates and coaches.

Because of the protocol in place, the Rays have not said which players haven’t been at each workout, but based on observations from the media in attendance, the only players who have yet to take the field during a workout are Randy Arozarena, Yonny Chirinos, Tyler Glasnow and José Martínez. Austin Meadows attended Friday’s workout, but he has not been on the field since.

Though Atlanta's Nick Markakis became the latest player to elect to sit out the 2020 season, Cash said no Rays players have told him of their intention to sit out. Hunter Renfroe said there has been “no talk at all” about that subject between players and that their focus is on trying to win a World Series.

Monday’s action
Diego Castillo, Colin Poche, Peter Fairbanks, Jalen Beeks and Nick Anderson were some of the pitchers who threw a live batting-practice session on Monday, according to Cash. Willy Adames and Kevin Kiermaier were the two hitters to face Castillo, who Cash said has looked “really, really crisp” during workouts.

“Willy came back with his eyes open really, really wide like if it was nasty stuff,” Cash said.

Anthony Banda, Andrew Kittredge and Oliver Drake are some of the pitchers slated to throw live BP on Tuesday. Cash also said that the team will have its first simulated game on Wednesday, though hitters won’t be running the bases. Charlie Morton and Ryan Yarbrough are expected to pitch the bulk of the frames during the five- or six-inning game.