After dealing with a back problem since the season opener, Yoshi Tsutsugo started to swing pain-free while on his rehab assignment at Triple-A Indianapolis.
When Tsutsugo hit a grand slam Saturday in a 10-8 loss to Nashville, the first baseman believe he was ready to return to the Pittsburgh Pirates after spending more than a month on the injured list.
“Around that time frame, I felt like I was ready to come back,” Tsutsugo said Tuesday through translator Brian Tobin. “But Shelty told me I should have saved it for here.”
Once they were reinstated from the injured list, Pirates manager Derek Shelton wasted no time putting Tsutsugo and outfielder Ben Gamel back in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s game against the New York Yankees at PNC Park.
“We’ve had a bunch of guys out on rehab, but to start to get some of them back is important for us,” Shelton said, referring to an Indianapolis roster that includes shortstop Kevin Newman, outfielder Jake Marisnick and left-hander Dillon Peters. “It’s nice to see them back.”
Tsutsugo said the back issue had bothered him since Opening Day but it became an issue of pain tolerance. It affected his hitting, as he batted .177 with three doubles, two home runs and 15 RBIs in 35 games. Now, Tsutsugo said, his back feels good: “I’m perfect now, no problem.”
“He looks like he’s moving differently,” Shelton said. “For him to say that, I do think early in the season, we saw him taking restricted swings. The swings that he’s taken over the last two weeks in Indy have been unrestricted. They’ve been definitely more aggressive.”
Gamel slashed .257/.350/.386 with seven doubles, a triple, three homers and 17 RBIs in 45 games before straining his left hamstring in late May. In his absence, Jack Suwinski has hit 13 homers with 23 RBIs. Suwinski got the start in left field against the Yankees, with Gamel in right.
“I got work in all three outfield positions,” Gamel said. “I have pretty extensive experience in all three.”
To make room on the 26-man roster for Gamel and Tsutsugo, the Pirates optioned infielders Tucupita Marcano and Hoy Park to Indianapolis. The Pirates also activated catcher Jason Delay from the taxi squad to replace Tyler Heineman, who was placed on the paternity leave list. Infielder Yu Chang, who was designated for assignment, was claimed off waivers by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Park batted .220 with two doubles, two homers and six RBIs in 22 games, while Marcano was batting .229 with three doubles, two home runs and five RBIs in 22 games. Shelton said Marcano showed signs of fatigue after spending time on the covid-19 injured list and a rehab assignment at Double-A Altoona.
“When he came back, he looked like he hadn’t played in seven or eight days,” Shelton said. “We just needed to get him out and get him some at-bats.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .