PITTSBURGH — Now that it’s started, when will it stop?
The first long ball opened the scoring in a game that had seen little offense and few fly balls to that point. In the fifth inning, Suzuki worked a 3-2 count that featured three high fastballs before the fourth sat down enough for him to square up and send the ball soaring to right-center field. The ball went a Statcast-projected 397 feet.
For his encore, Suzuki swung through a center-cut fastball from Anthony Banda before clobbering a second-pitch fastball near the same zone to left field. The ball sailed over the head of a climbing Jake Marisnick and went almost the same distance as the former, but with a little more carry at a Statcast-estimated 398 feet.
Suzuki made some baseball history with the two homers. He is now the only MLB player with eight-plus RBIs and four-plus walks in his first four career games since RBIs became an official stat in 1920. Suzuki also joined 2021 American League MVP Award winner Shohei Ohtani as the only Japanese-born players to hit three homers in the first four MLB games of his career (as a batter).
The Cubs hope Suzuki, who signed a five-year deal with the team in the offseason, can continue this torrid stretch of power to give the team a chance to contend for a title in the wide-open National League Central.
Ask him how he’s doing it, and Suzuki downplays it. Through interpreter Toy Matsushita, Suzuki said he’s “getting lucky,” his confidence isn’t a factor and he’s just trying to be himself.
Ask acting manager Andy Green, and the answer is much more precise and powerful.
“He’s good. It’s not rocket science,” Green said. “He can flat-out swing the bat.”
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of Suzuki’s game is his mix of clutch hitting and plate discipline so early in his MLB tenure. For instance, the fastball he swung through from Banda before swatting his second home run of the game? It was only his second swing and miss in the Majors through 16 plate appearances, though he swung and missed on strike three in his final at-bat of the game. Those aren’t quite Steven Kwan numbers, but they’re extremely impressive to begin an MLB career.
In Spring Training, Suzuki’s production didn’t begin as hot as it’s been right now. He struck out four times in his first six at-bats before collecting his first hit in the fourth game. Now, he’s showing what made him one of the premier players in Japan.
“He’s done a really good job of controlling the strike zone since the season started,” Green said. “I think early in spring, he was anxious to show some things, might have chased a little bit more, but as the season has gotten here, he’s really stayed in the strike zone, swung at good pitches, shown how strong he is. … That strength and that decision making is going to translate.”
Suzuki is one of a large batch of free-agent signings and new additions to Chicago’s team. Another player who fits that bill is Drew Smyly, who threw five scoreless innings with only three hits allowed and no walks to solidify his case in the rotation.
Despite not being able to communicate with coaches during the offseason during the lockout and getting a short spring to get to know one another, the group has begun to mesh well, and they’ve especially made the effort to make Suzuki feel at home — even by trying to bring his home language to him as much as possible.
“There are a lot of great guys on this team,” Suzuki said. “Many of them are trying to learn Japanese for me so they can communicate with me. Seeing them do that for me, it just means a lot for me, and I want to win as many games as possible with them.”
But don’t be so impressed just yet: “Everyone is relatively very bad at Japanese,” he admitted.
The Cubs have a long season to look forward to brushing up on their Japanese skills, and they hope they’ll have a long season and more of watching Suzuki strike fear in opposing pitchers. It’s still early, but the intangibles on top of the results are laying a good foundation for a star in the making on the North Side.
“This is a really tough league, and guys are going to start to make adjustments,” Green said, “but he’s the kind of guy who you can already see is going to make adjustments right back.”