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Tucson Toros baseball

Eri Yoshida - Japanese 'Knuckle Princess' - adjusts to U.S. baseball

Toros rough up first-place Outlaws

The Tucson Toros still have not faced Eri Yoshida - the "Knuckle Princess" -  but they evened their three-game series with a 13-6 win over the first-place Chico Outlaws on Saturday night.

The 18-year-old female pitcher from Japan has been nothing but present in the Golden Baseball League since her arrival at the beginning of the season, and has been loving every second of it.

“I’m playing with a lot of high-level players, and it’s been a great experience,” Yoshida said. “It’s been incredible.”

Yoshida came to the United States in January to pitch for Yuma in the Arizona Winter League, a short-season instructional league affiliated with the GBL. 

It was there, Yoshida said when she hit her stride. 

“That was when I became accustomed to American culture and playing baseball in the United States,” the sidearm knuckleballer said. “It was a good experience in the way that now I’m able to really focus on baseball.”

Meeting an idol

Yoshida, who first watched Tim Wakefield when she was 12, finally got a chance to meet her idol in March.

"I want to be Wakefield. This is my dream," she told him in one of the documentary clips, after they exchanged autographed baseballs at the Red Sox's Fort Myers, Fla., spring training facility, reports Gideon Rubin on ESPN.

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She also got a chance to show her stuff to Wakefield.

"I'm impressed," Wakefield said to the Associated Press. "She spun a couple, but for the most part it was very good. She was able to take the spin out of a lot of them and they had quite a lot of movement on them."

Golden Baseball League

In her two starts this season, she has combined for seven innings and nine hits with a 6.43 ERA on the season.

In her May 29 debut, she went three innings, giving up five hits and four runs against the Tijuana Cimarrones.

"I'm sure she was nervous," said Tijuana's Kit Pellow, who played briefly in the majors with Colorado and Kansas City, told Jeff Fletcher of fanhouse.com. "If she throws more strikes, she'll get more outs. The thing is, her fastball and slider are so slow, there is no surprise factor.

“With other knuckleball pitchers, they'll zip in an 80 mph fastball and it looks like it's 100. Well, she doesn't have that. She needs to throw strikes with that knuckleball or she's going to get in trouble."

In her second outing, she improved her numbers, going four innings, giving up one run and four hits.

Yoshida said she continues to enjoy the support and instruction from the Outlaws organization.

"The team has really been helping me with my knuckleball and helping me advance my skills," she said. “They’ve been nothing but kind people, so I really feel at home being with my teammates.”

While she feels comfortable on the field, she said she does get homesick.

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"I do get a little down (about being so far from home)," Yoshida said. "But knowing that I get to have this kind of experience – to be in this kind of environment and getting to play baseball – it really makes up for it, so it’s all been very worth it."

Yoshida’s plans extend beyond the GBL.

"My big thing now has been really getting my knuckleball down and focusing on getting better," Yoshida said. "I want to go further – up to the majors."

Yoshida’s next scheduled start is Thursday against the Edmonton Capitals at Chico.

Toros offense explodes

The Toros tallied 17 hits in their decisive victory over the Chico Outlaws on Saturday. 

Highlighted by a six-run fourth and a five-run fifth, the Toros tied the three-games series at a game a piece with a 13-6 win.

“If you swing the bat, you do a lot of damage,” manager Tim Johnson said. “The offense showed up and came through. Everybody contributed tonight.”

Every starter had a hit, and seven players had a more than one. Lino Garcia went 3 for 5 with two RBIs.

“I just told myself to relax up there and let the ball travel,” he said. “Every pitch I hit tonight was a breaking ball (slider), so I just went after them.”

After trailing 5-1 going into the bottom of the fourth, the Toros’ bats woke up.

Three consecutive singles, followed by a two-run RBI double to left-center by Garcia moved Tucson to within one run.

Wally Backman Jr. then tied it on a bloop single to center.

Chico starter Demetrius Banks (2-1) was pulled after 3 1/3 innings after six runs, five earned, and nine hits. He was charged with the loss, his first of the season.

Two errors and a sacrifice fly gave them 7-5 lead. All told, 11 batters hit in the fourth, tallying six runs.

The offensive eruption began with a leadoff bunt single by Brian Bistagne, who went 2 for 4 with two RBIs.

“I was trying to get good pitches to hit and be patient,” Bistagne said. “I did well getting ahead in the count, so I was in a good position to get a good pitch to drive in almost every at-bat.

“We started off kind of slow (offensively), and then everyone got fired up. Once we wrapped a couple hits together, it just dominoed.”

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The Toros weren’t done after the fourth. They added five runs in the fifth, including back-to-back two-RBI basehits by Francisco Plasencia and Luis Apodaca.

Plasencia went 2 for 4 with two RBIs.

“It was a good game for Frankie (Plasencia),” Johnson said. “He hasn’t played in two weeks, and he came in and saw the ball well tonight. He needed to have a big game, and he did.”

Matt Lincoln (1-3) got his first win of the season and averaged a hit per inning. He went seven innings on six runs (four earned) on seven hits to pick up his first win of the season. 

After both teams added one run to their score in the sixth, the Outlaws and Toros each went scoreless the final three innings, keeping the game at 13-6 from the seventh through the ninth.

“My 4-seam fastball worked well tonight,” said Emiliano Fruto, who pitched the final inning for the Toros in a non-save situation. “There’s no difference to me whether it’s a save situation or not. I’m always going to try to shut them down.”

Chico and Tucson closeout their three-game series Sunday at Hi-Corbett Field at 7 pm.

Father's day meaningful to Garcia

Garcia’s father, a former Venezuelan softball pitcher and first baseman, taught him the ropes of baseball.

The overriding piece of advice that he gave Garcia was to always stay calm at the plate.

“My dad always said that the more comfortable you are (in the batter’s box), the better you’re going to hit,” the Toros left fielder said.

Garcia said that although the competition level does not reach beyond high school in Venezuela, his father had much to offer his baseball career.

“He was the one who coached me through (baseball) and I got a lot of knowledge from him, so there’s a lot to thank him for (Father’s Day)” Garcia said. “I’m definitely going to give him a call.”

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Ash Friederich/TucsonSentinel.com

Eri Yoshida started developing her knuckleball at the age of 12 after watching Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox. In March, she was able to meet her idol and gain instruction on how to throw the wobbling pitch.

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Up next

The Tucson Toros will conclude the three game homestand before heading on the road to St. George to play the RoadRunners before returning home on June 25th to face the new expansion Maui Ikaikas.

Chico/TOROS Series

  • Game 1: Friday, June 18: Chico 7, TOROS 2. WP: Holleran (4-1) LP: Lopez (2-2)
  • Game 2: Saturday, June 19: TOROS 13, Chico 6. WP: Lincoln (1-3) LP: Banks (2-1)
  • Game 3: Sunday, June 20: Outlaws @ TOROS, 7 p.m.

Tickets are available at the Hi Corbett Field box office or by calling the Toros (520) 325-1010.

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