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Surprising Suzuki sets career high in homers

MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- As the Braves assessed the catching position this past winter, they toyed with the idea of pairing Anthony Recker with Tyler Flowers before ultimately deciding in January to end Kurt Suzuki's long stint on the free-agent market.

Nearly nine months after signing a one-year deal to serve as Atlanta's backup catcher, Suzuki has positioned himself to be one of the most attractive catchers available as a free agent this winter. The easygoing veteran has reinvigorated his career with an unexpected power surge, culminated when he set a new career-high home run total during Wednesday night's 7-3 loss to the Nationals at SunTrust Park.

Full Game Coverage

ATLANTA -- As the Braves assessed the catching position this past winter, they toyed with the idea of pairing Anthony Recker with Tyler Flowers before ultimately deciding in January to end Kurt Suzuki's long stint on the free-agent market.

Nearly nine months after signing a one-year deal to serve as Atlanta's backup catcher, Suzuki has positioned himself to be one of the most attractive catchers available as a free agent this winter. The easygoing veteran has reinvigorated his career with an unexpected power surge, culminated when he set a new career-high home run total during Wednesday night's 7-3 loss to the Nationals at SunTrust Park.

Full Game Coverage

"On a personal level, this season exceeded my expectations," Suzuki said. "It's just one of those things I can't explain. I put a lot of work in and really didn't have a job until late January. I got an opportunity here and took advantage of it. It was definitely a good fit."

Suzuki's fifth-inning solo shot against Gio Gonzalez was his 16th homer of the season, eclipsing the previous career-best total he hit in 570 at-bats for the 2009 A's. The 33-year-old catcher set this year's record total in 249 at-bats. He entered this season having totaled 16 homers over the past three years for the Twins and hadn't reached double digits since 2011.

After seeing Suzuki essentially force himself into the lineup over the past few months, the Braves would certainly like to re-sign the likeable Hawaiian. But the cost will certainly be greater than the $1.5 million used to garner his services this year.

Suzuki will join Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Wieters as the most attractive catchers available this winter. He may not have to wait until January to learn where he might be playing next year.

"That would be nice for the family's sake," said Suzuki, who has hit .267 and compiled a .842 OPS. "You've got a wife and three kids at home that want to know where you're going to be."

Suzuki has hit 12 of his 16 homers within his past 138 at-bats, dating back to July 2. That 11.5 at-bat-per-home-run ratio ranks ninth among all Major Leaguers who have compiled at least 130 at-bats within that span, and first among all catchers.

"The role he's been in and how we've used him, I think we're maxing out what we're getting out of him," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He's always ready. He's a professional. He's kind of thrived in that role."

The Braves will certainly have some interest in Suzuki and there's a chance he could once again be paired with Flowers, who has a $4 million club option for the 2018 season.

Suzuki is open to returning, but he will first get a feel for market, a right he's eager to test courtesy of a season that has exceeded all expectations.

"This place was a good fit for me," Suzuki said. "I understand the business part of it. My wife and kids had a great time here. I love the guys. I think having the coaching staff here made it really easy to play for and go out there and compete. That's a big thing, having a coaching staff that supports you and trusts you. I think that's a big factor."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Atlanta Braves, Kurt Suzuki