New Dodger Yoshi Tsutsugo, once a star in Japan, out to fix what’s failed him in MLB

Dodgers' Yoshi Tsutsugo pops out.
Dodgers’ Yoshi Tsutsugo pops out during the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Yoshi Tsutsugo always wanted to play for the Dodgers. When he decided to leave Japan’s Yokohama Bay Stars for the major leagues after a decade and five All-Star seasons in 2019, he preferred them over the other interested teams interested in his services. It took another a year and a half, but he’s a Dodger after the roughest patch of his professional career.

The Dodgers acquired Tsutsugo from the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday for a player to be named or cash after the Rays designated him for assignment, essentially discarding him after he failed to adjust to major league pitching in 288 plate appearances.

The team expressed interest in Tsutsugo before he signed with Tampa Bay two winters ago, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. They pounced this time around because injuries have ravaged their depth, prompting a series of moves on the margins since the start of the month.


Tsutsugo made his debut at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, starting in left field and batting seventh behind Albert Pujols in the Dodgers’ 9-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. He became the third Japanese-born position player to play for the franchise, joining manager Dave Roberts and Norihiro Nakamura.

“I’m very grateful to the Rays,” Tsutsugo, 29, said in Japanese. “Of course, I’m disappointed I couldn’t contribute to the Rays. But now that I have a new team, I’m grateful to have another chance to play again. I’ll just do the best that I can for the team.”

Albert Pujols is an established baseball great, but if he was willing to be a bench player for the Angels, why is he now playing for the Dodgers?

The left-handed hitter walked in his first two plate appearances and finished 0 for 2. His new teammates supplied the production as the Dodgers improved to 24-18.

Chris Taylor, starting at third base for the first time since 2019, went two for four with a walk and a tiebreaking, two-run home run after not starting the previous two days because of right wrist soreness. Pujols was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the seventh inning for his second RBI in two days as a Dodger.

Two batters later, Gavin Lux, starting at shortstop for the injured Corey Seager, broke the game open with a grand slam on an 0-and-2 pitch with two outs. The former top prospect is batting .328 with nine strikeouts in 15 games this month after hitting .179 with 19 strikeouts in 17 games in April.

“Gavin has freed himself to be himself on a baseball field,” Roberts said. “What that means is he’s not afraid to make mistakes.”

Dodgers left fielder Yoshi Tsutsugo makes a catch.
Dodgers left fielder Yoshi Tsutsugo makes a catch on a ball hit by Arizona Diamondbacks’ Eduardo Escobar during the first inning on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Julio Urías had exited minutes earlier after holding the Diamondbacks (18-25) to one run on three hits with eight strikeouts and no walks. He threw 92 pitches, lowered his earned-run average to 3.04 and added a single at the plate. Blake Treinen relieved him in the seventh with two runners on base and induced a flyball to end the inning.

Tsutsugo starred at Yokohama High, renowned in Japan for a baseball program that has produced Daisuke Matsuzaka among others, before becoming one of the best players in Nippon Professional Baseball, batting .285 with 205 homers in 10 seasons. But the skills haven’t translated to the major leagues yet.

Last season, he hit .197 with a .708 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and eight home runs in 51 games. He regressed further this year, batting .167 with a .462 OPS and zero homers in 26 games.

The Dodgers believe they can repair Tsutsugo’s biggest flaw as a major leaguer: handling high velocity. Tsutsugo changed his swing when he left Japan and said he will integrate parts of his old swing but not revert to it entirely.

The Dodgers announced Monday they had signed former Angels slugger Albert Pujols, who will be in uniform tonight vs. the Diamondbacks.

“We very much believe in the bat,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “We still believe he can hit, and sometimes a change of scenery helps.”

Short hops

The Dodgers placed left-hander Garrett Cleavinger on the 10-day injured list with left forearm inflammation. Left-hander Alex Vesia was recalled in his spot. … Roberts said Cody Bellinger and Zach McKinstry should begin rehabilitation assignments with triple-A Oklahoma City by Friday. Bellinger has been out since April 5 with a fractured left fibula. McKinstry was placed on the injured list with an oblique strain. … Roberts said right-hander Tony Gonsolin is scheduled to log a two-inning outing for Oklahoma City this week. Gonsolin was placed on the injured list April 4 with shoulder inflammation.

Staff writer Dylan Hernández contributed to this story.