Eri Yoshida added another first to her resume, but the 18-year-old “Knuckle Princess” from Japan is still looking for a win.
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Yoshida, the first female to play professionally in the United States since 2000, pitched four strong innings and recorded her first strikeout of the season but left with a no-decision in the Chico Outlaws’ 8-4 win over the Yuma Scorpions on Saturday night.
The right-hander gave up two runs and allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in every inning she worked, needing 79 pitches in her second start of the year.
“I wanted to throw one more inning, but the manager has the ideas, he has the strategy, so I respect that,” Yoshida said through an interpreter. “I just want to improve more and more. I prepared to pitch like usual, so I could relax more than last time.”
Yoshida has created quite a stir in this college town since signing with the Outlaws earlier this year. Long lines of fans snaked through the stadium parking lot 30 minutes before the game, with the first 1,000 receiving an autographed picture of Yoshida. Team officials delayed the start briefly to allow people to get inside.
The 5-foot right-hander, who already has a spot reserved in Cooperstown, was much more relaxed than in her debut May 29 despite hitting Yuma leadoff hitter Eric Scriven with her second pitch.
Yoshida’s knuckleball, which she learned from watching tapes of Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, dipped and danced nicely at times and prevented the Scorpions from doing much offensively.
She struck out Timothy Rodriguez on three pitches in the third inning, drawing a roar from the Chico fans, and got a double play in the fourth before allowing an unearned run on an error by Chico shortstop Alex Prieto. The strikeout was Yoshida’s first of the year.
“She’s really getting confident, and when she’s confident and throwing all of her pitches across the plate, she’s tough,” Chico catcher Robby Alcombrack said. “When she really lets the knuckler go and she’s not trying to aim it, she’s good. It’s a knuckleball and you really never know how it’s going to be, but tonight it was heavy and it was late.”
Yoshida left with a 5-2 lead after getting Yuma pitcher Gilbert De La Vara to ground out to shortstop.
During pregame introductions, Yoshida received the loudest cheers as she jogged from Chico’s dugout to the mound for her second start in front of the Outlaws crowd.
It’s already been a whirlwind month for Yoshida. She became the first woman to play pro baseball in the United States since Ila Borders in 2000 when she pitched three innings against Tijuana. That prompted the Baseball Hall of Fame to ask for the jersey and bat Yoshida used in the game.
Yoshida is also gaining a following in the majors. She has met and spoken to Wakefield multiple times, and this week Hideki Matsui of the Los Angeles Angels acknowledged he is a fan of the teen sensation.
“I saw that on the Internet and I am very glad that a major leaguer, like I want to be, is thinking of me like that,” Yoshida said. “That makes me happy.”
The bubbly teen struggled early against Yuma, hitting Scriven. After getting a pair of infield popouts, Yoshida engaged in a lengthy duel with Santos Deleon before Deleon blooped an RBI single to left to give the Scorpions a 1-0 lead.
Yoshida rebounded nicely and pitched a scoreless second inning before running into a jam in the third after giving up a leadoff walk and a one-out double. Yoshida stayed calm, though, and struck out Rodriguez. Deleon flew out to center to end the threat.
Johny Celis walked leading off the fourth but was erased when Yoshida got Ruben Sanchez to ground into a 6-4-3 double play. Masjid Khairy followed with a single to left, stole second, then scored when Prieto failed to catch Bubba Garcia’s popup and was charged with an error.
Yoshida, who singled in her only at-bat during her debut two weeks ago, struck out looking in the second.