TORONTO – Right-hander Shun Yamaguchi, the newest addition to the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitching staff, said Wednesday that overcoming eastern Canada’s cold weather will be his top priority as he competes for a rotation spot.
After being introduced by Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins in a news conference at Rogers Centre, Yamaguchi said he has been welcomed by his new teammates and looks forward to spending the next three days training with them.
“The temperature is cold here but I feel that the people are warm,” Yamaguchi said.
“After coming to Canada and playing catch, I’ve learned the cold weather makes it harder to get a good grip on the ball. I have to figure out how I’ll cope with that.”
The 32-year-old, who signed a two-year, $6.35 million deal with the Blue Jays in December, will go head-to-head in the American League East with the New York Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka and the Tampa Bay Rays’ Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.
Yamaguchi spent 14 years in Japan with the Yokohama BayStars and Yomiuri Giants.
He said watching major league stars like Hideo Nomo and Ichiro Suzuki enjoy success in North America made him want to emulate them in baseball’s top league, rather than following his father, who was a professional sumo wrestler.
Yamaguchi caused a ripple of laughter from reporters at his introductory news conference when he confessed that he chose baseball over sumo because, as he got older, he realized he did not want to put his “butt on public display,” as is unavoidable in the world of sumo.
In his NPB career, Yamaguchi compiled a 64-58 career record in 427 games, with 112 saves and a 3.35 ERA. He has experience as a starter and reliever, and he is coming into the season with every intention of establishing himself as a starter in the majors.
“What makes it special is that the Blue Jays are the only major league team in Canada,” he said in his No. 1 Toronto uniform.
“In Japan, the sport is called yakyu, in the U.S. it’s called baseball,” he said. “The two playing styles are very different. I believe the MLB is where the highest level of baseball is played, and I’m eager to find out if I’ll be able to match the standard.”
Yamaguchi said he hasn’t had a chance to talk to other Japanese players who made the transition from NPB to MLB about the challenges they faced, but he does not expect it to be easy.
“I’m sure the environment and culture at every stadium will be different, so I’ll have to adjust to that,” he said. “I need to communicate with my manager and coaches, and I know that I need to change, or else I won’t see results. I’m willing to be open and flexible as I adjust.”