Suzuki's success is 'just scratching the surface'

September 12th, 2022

CHICAGO -- There have been times throughout this season when Seiya Suzuki has been absent from the Cubs' locker room after a game. The repeated sound of a baseball meeting a bat coming from a nearby hallway would let everyone know where he could be found.

"He's in the cages working," Cubs starter Wade Miley said. "He's constantly trying to take the next step and elevate himself. Almost, like, I think it's too much sometimes. But that's what he feels like. It works for him."

On Sunday night, Suzuki was in Wrigley Field's home clubhouse, allowing himself to prepare for the Cubs' trip to New York rather than squeezing in extra hitting work while the team bus waited. In a 4-2 loss to the Giants, Suzuki launched an impressive home run, continuing a recent surge in production.

In the eighth inning, San Francisco lefty Scott Alexander elevated a 1-0 sinker and Suzuki did not miss. The Cubs rookie took a violent pass at the pitch, turning hard enough to have the left toe of his cleat pointed skyward as his momentum pushed him back.

The baseball clanked hard off an empty row in the center-field bleachers.

"It looked like he leaned back on that one more than he normally does," Cubs manager David Ross said. "Really nice swing. I've thought he's played really good baseball for us, good at-bats. The consistency that he's produced for us for a month-plus now, I think, has been really solid.

"I think this is the player that we thought he was. And it's nice to see him settling in, playing every day and being able to control that."

Over the next three weeks, Suzuki will put the finishing touches on a rookie year that has included some expected ups and downs. Given the heights Suzuki reached with Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan, and the relentless work ethic he has displayed with the Cubs, there is confidence in Suzuki maximizing this coming offseason.

Suzuki has learned the ins and outs of the 162-game MLB season. He has experienced traveling across time zones. He has started to face pitchers multiple times to further learn tendencies and adjust to the overpowering pitch arsenals in the game today. He has grown familiar with the Cubs, his teammates and the city.

"I think what you've seen from him this year is just scratching the surface," Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner said. "And just away from the game of baseball, just life wise, I think it's just got to be just incredibly challenging.

"We've talked about it some, but he'll come into next year with a real sense of what's ahead of him -- weather, to travel, to opposing pitchers, to food, to everything in between that a lot of us take for granted.

"So, if this is his baseline of ability, we've got a really, really solid player and a guy who is going to continue to improve."

Through 100 games, Suzuki has hit .260 with 13 homers, 22 doubles, 45 RBIs and a .767 OPS for the Cubs, who invested nearly $100 million (contract plus posting fee) to sign the slugger. Those overall numbers do not tell the story of Suzuki's season, though.

Suzuki was the National League's Rookie of the Month in April after bursting onto the scene with a nine-game hitting streak to start his MLB career and a .934 OPS for the month. He belted three homers in his first four games and had fans dreaming about instant superstardom.

Then came the downturn in May (.616 OPS) and a sprained left ring finger that was annoyingly persistent, forcing Suzuki to miss all of June. He came back with an electric inside-the-park homer off Josh Hader on July 4 and has played at an elevated level since returning.

Including Sunday's showing, Suzuki has hit .294/.361/.479 in his last 32 games, dating back to Aug. 8.

"I feel like I'm getting used to the atmosphere," Suzuki said recently via his interpreter, Toy Matsushita. "I also feel really good in the box. I just feel like everything's coming together. There were ups and downs obviously at the start of the season, but I definitely feel better right now."

There will be a few more postgame cage sessions before the winter arrives. And when it does, Suzuki will have plenty of information and feedback to pore over as he prepares for the 2023 campaign.

"There's a lot of power in going back and assessing how your season went," Ross said. "Him, in particular, with just how he started, the struggles he went through, the injury, the regroup. And then finding such a comfortable at-bat here lately down the stretch has been a real positive."