December 5, 2022

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Suzuki makes more history, unleashes yet another skill

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CHICAGO — Seiya Suzuki did not delve into data during the spring. He dissected deliveries of various pitchers, monitored movement of their respective repertoires and made timing tweaks as his knowledge bank increased.

Given the incredible start Suzuki has enjoyed this season for the Cubs, it was fair to assume he was now adding analytics to his pregame preparation. That would help explain all the eye-popping numbers early in his transition to the Majors from Japan.

“I haven’t looked at any of the data,” Suzuki said via his interpreter, Toy Matsushita.

In a 4-2 win over the Rays on Monday night, Suzuki found his way on base three more times (four, if including a reached-on-error) in frigid conditions at Wrigley Field. Within that showing, the star rookie collected two hits, making more history in the process.

• Suzuki’s nine-game hitting streak is the longest for a Cubs batter to start a Major League career since Andy Pafko’s nine-game run for the ballclub in 1943.

• His nine-game hitting streak is also tied with Akinori Iwamura (2007 Rays) for the longest run to begin an MLB career for a Japanese-born player.

• Suzuki joins Art Williams (1902), Hal Jeffcoat (’48) and Tony Taylor (’58)as the only Cubs since 1901 to have a 10-game on-base streak (without a reached-on-error) to begin a career.

In eight of Suzuki’s nine starts, he has reached base at least twice. On Friday against the Rockies, he came off the bench as a pinch-hitter and drew a walk in his only plate appearance. That preserved his ongoing hitting streak.

Suzuki was named the National League’s Player of the Week on Monday morning, and then went out and improved his season slash line to .429/.564/.929 through 39 plate appearances. He has four homers (two pulled and two to the opposite field), nine runs, 11 RBIs and as many walks (nine) as strikeouts.

“It’s so impressive, man,” Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks said. “Every at-bat. He doesn’t take an at-bat off. Plate discipline from the start. I know facing guys like that, it’s a headache. Every at-bat is tough.

“You don’t know quite where to go and then he puts swings on balls in every area of the zone. He covers everything. So, it’s just really tough to game plan and attack against a guy like that.”

And then Hendricks added the obvious: “I’m glad he’s on our side.”

In Monday’s victory, Suzuki showed off another skill: speed.

Suzuki’s first trip to the plate against Rays starter Shane McClanahan resulted in a chopper to shortstop Taylor Walls. The Cubs outfielder hustled up the line, hitting 29.5 feet per second for his sprint speed (95th percentile, per Statcast). Walls misfired on the throw for an error. Two batters later, Patrick Wisdom launched a two-run homer.

In the fourth inning, Suzuki pulled a curveball from McClanahan 107.4 mph into left field and hustled toward second base, per Statcast. On that play, Suzuki was ruled out (a call that stood after a review), but by the narrowest of margins.

“That was a great effort,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He runs the bases well. I haven’t asked him to steal a lot of bases yet. I think that is a weapon we can try to use a little bit later on. His instincts are just really good, and his speed helps with that.”

Suzuki was hit by a Jason Adam pitch in the seventh, and later sprinted from second to home on an Ian Happ single to left field. That gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead that they would not relinquish.

After the game, Happ was wearing a shirt that read, “Launch angle is overrated.” That right there made him as good a candidate as any to hear feedback on the fact that Suzuki has been doing all of this without relying heavily on data.

“I saw that,” Happ said of Suzuki’s comments. “That’s just who he is as a hitter. I think he’s got a ton of natural ability and I think he trusts his eyes. You can see in his at-bats.

“Stuff that is just off the edges, just a little bit of movement, he’s really good at spitting on those pitches and getting something over the heart to handle.”

Ross agreed that trusting his instincts and talent has been a great approach for Suzuki as he navigates Major League waters for the first time.

“You get a little bit more information up here,” Ross said. “But trying to use that and how you use that is tricky sometimes. So, I’m happy he’s just being himself and feels really comfortable and having success.”

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