With Opening Day in doubt, Cubs won't rush Suzuki

March 2nd, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs would be thrilled to see in their Opening Day lineup on March 30 against the Brewers, but don’t expect the club to rush the outfielder back if he’s not 100 percent ready.

“I think a lot of bad decisions are made around Opening Day,” Jed Hoyer, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, said prior to Thursday’s 6-1 win over the Athletics. “It's one day on the calendar, but people rush back for it and we want to make sure that we are patient. If he makes it back for that, that's great, but that's not what we care about. We just care about getting him totally healthy.”

Speaking publicly for the first time since Suzuki was diagnosed with a moderate strain of his left oblique, Hoyer called the injury “disappointing,” noting that the outfielder arrived in camp in great shape after adding about 20 pounds of muscle during the offseason.

“He was obviously turning heads here,” Hoyer said. “He was excited for his first real season, real Spring Training, getting used to everything. Obviously it's a setback, but it's actually in some ways better to have it happen now than have it happen during the season.

“To me, it was a little bit of, it was like a wakeup call for us; this is what happens. You write your lineup down in the winter and it's never the lineup you write down during the season. You always have injuries and things to deal with, and this is the first thing for us to deal with. From a depth standpoint, we can certainly handle it.”

It’s unclear whether Suzuki’s injury was directly correlated to the changes he made to his body this winter, but Hoyer said the team will take the necessary precautions in his rehab to lessen the chances of the oblique becoming a recurring issue.

“It’s probably hard to ever know; weight training generally reduces injuries, not causes injuries,” Hoyer said. “He obviously got really strong, but I think in the return to play, we’ll certainly make sure he works on his mobility. He wants to maintain strength, but also maintain mobility, so that’s what we’ll work on.”

Hoyer declined to put a firm timetable on Suzuki’s return, saying only that the club has “general expectations” of the time it takes for a player to return from an injury of this nature.

“I think that that certainly would put Opening Day in strong jeopardy,” Hoyer said. “We just want to make sure we get him completely healthy so when he does come back, he's going to be ready to go and we're not going to be concerned about it.”

missed more than seven weeks with a right oblique injury in 2021, so he offered some advice to Suzuki about how to handle the coming weeks: “Just respect the injury.”

“Swinging is a violent thing, and something that's hard to do when you're anything less than 100 percent,” Hoerner said. “When your hamstring is a little tight, you can not run as hard to first. You can’t say, ‘I’m not going to swing as hard at this fastball.’ That’s tough to do.”

Suzuki’s injury has opened the door for , a non-roster invitee in camp who played 257 games with the Rockies, Yankees and Giants between 2017 and ’21 before spending the 2022 season playing in Korea. Tauchman went 1-for-3 with a run scored, an RBI and a stolen base on Thursday, giving him five hits in nine at-bats this spring (.556).

Manager David Ross has been impressed with what he’s seen from Tauchman during the early weeks of camp, citing a number of aspects of the 32-year-old’s game that have stood out.

“You can just tell he's been around,” Ross said. “He’s got time in the big leagues, knows how to handle his at-bats. The things that stood out early were his calm approach, he’s a better outfielder than I expected, he thinks through his at-bats, thinks through his swing, controls the zone really well and makes solid contact.”

Bringing in another outfielder from outside of the organization seems like a long shot, especially since Suzuki’s injury isn’t likely to keep him out far beyond Opening Day. Hoyer said he “wouldn’t be shocked” if the Cubs added a player during camp given the number of free agents still available, though he added, “There are some players out there; in particular some relievers out there.”

“It definitely gives some guys opportunity to make the team that might not have, or might have been facing different competitions,” Hoyer said. “We'll see. We'll obviously have a lot of conversations about it through the rest of camp.”