Despite booming BP, Suzuki sticking with Cubs' schedule

March 25th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- The last pitch of 's first round of batting practice on Saturday morning soared over the wall in left-center on Field 1 at the Cubs' complex. The first pitch of his next round was launched out to left.

After watching for a few minutes, Cubs manager David Ross turned around and found a group of reporters standing in foul territory behind the cage. Ross positioned himself so his back was to Suzuki, who continued to put on a show for the fans watching nearby.

"I need to close my eyes," Ross joked. "That's why I walked over here to talk to you guys. Don't get too excited."

It was another step forward for Suzuki, who nonetheless is expected to begin the season on the injured list due to the left oblique strain he sustained in late February. Over the past week, the volume and intensity of the right fielder's workouts have increased, but the Cubs are not going to rush the schedule.

The pace at which Suzuki has shown improvement could, however, have an impact on how Chicago constructs its Opening Day roster.

If the right fielder is able to return earlier in April than anticipated, that could alter how the team weighs adding a non-roster option ( being the front-runner) or sticking with a player like the versatile , who is on the 40-man roster and has Minor League options.

While Ross declined to discuss specifics, the manager acknowledged that Suzuki's progress and potential timetable will be a factor in the upcoming roster decisions. At the front-end of a 162-game season, maintaining layers of depth is a priority for clubs.

"I don't know that I want to list off all the factors that go into the decision-making, right?" Ross said. "There are a lot of them. Whether you are trying to put somebody on the roster that's not on it, or trying to fill a gap for 10 days, is a big deal. And it's a big decision.

"We have so much talent and a lot of depth here. We would like to keep as much as we possibly can, because of the long journey we're about to start. So his progression is important to some of those decisions, for sure."

Along those lines, it is worth noting that the Cubs have no intention of trying to get Suzuki in a Cactus League game before camp breaks. By sticking to that plan, Chicago would have the ability to make the outfielder's upcoming IL stint retroactive by three days.

Ross said the current plan calls for Suzuki to get into Minor League games "hopefully really soon," but only as a defender, at first. He will not face live pitching until after the Cubs break camp. By taking that approach, it should position Suzuki to pile up plate appearances at a swifter rate.

Until Suzuki returns, the Cubs have multiple options for right field, including and . Morel can play all over the infield and outfield, and Ross noted that he has looked improved in right and left this spring. Tauchman has impressed the manager this spring, as well, and has the ability to play all three outfield spots.

The Cubs are hoping for a breakout showing for the 28-year-old Suzuki, who is entering the second season under the five-year, $85 million contract he signed last spring. In 111 games in 2022, he hit .262/.336/.433 with 14 homers, 22 doubles and a 116 OPS+ in an up-and-down, injury-impacted rookie year.

Suzuki certainly looked the part in Saturday's round of batting practice.

"It's nice and loud out there. It's coming off the bat well -- home runs," Ross said. "He's been hitting in the cage and it's all been good feedback, but it looks like the ball is coming off well. He's free and easy."