CHICAGO — Seiya Suzuki has been billed as a potential offensive force who offers a blend of patience and power. The plate discipline was evident in the Cubs’ first two games. The power arrived in a big way Sunday.
In the first inning of a 5-4 loss to the Brewers, Suzuki crushed a pitch from Freddy Peralta high over the left-center wall, sending it deep into Wrigley Field’s bleacher seats. The three-run no-doubter marked the first home run of Suzuki’s Major League career.
“That was nice, wasn’t it? That was loud,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “The dugout erupted. It was nice to give us the lead. Felt really good. That was a beautiful swing.”
Coming into the game, Suzuki had a pair of hits to go along with three walks and three RBIs in his first two games. If the Cubs’ new right fielder — signed to a five-year, $85 million contract during the spring — has been nervous, he has not shown it in his early performance.
Suzuki has seen 57 pitches in his first 13 trips to the plate for an average of 4.38 per plate appearance. Within that showing, the righty-swinging slugger has just one whiff among 11 swings. The other 10 swings include five foul balls, two singles, a sacrifice fly, one groundout and Sunday’s home run.
“It’s pretty amazing, man, to be honest with you,” Cubs catcher Yan Gomes said. “And it’s not so much just not swinging at pitches. He doesn’t even bite at them, either. That usually happens the opposite way early on. But just having little conversations with him, you can tell he’s done it. He’s obviously been playing in Japan and at the higher level there for a long time.”
On Sunday, Suzuki stepped in with two outs and runners on first and second base in the first. Peralta worked to a 3-1 count before missing over the middle with a hanging slider. Suzuki did what he did 189 times in his career in Japan, launching the pitch for a home run.
“That’s obviously a moment I’ll never forget,” Suzuki said via his interpreter, Toy Matsushita.
As Suzuki rounded third base, he paused and shared a bow with Cubs third-base coach Willie Harris, who has a few different homer celebrations with players. Jonathan Villar and Alfonso Rivas, who scored on the blast, also offered bows when Suzuki cross the plate.
Suzuki said the bow was Harris’ idea.
“He said it was kind of boring rounding third with no performance,” Suzuki said. “So the bowing just came from our conversation.”
In his second at-bat against Peralta, Suzuki saw seven pitches and drew a walk. The Cubs’ right fielder was then aggressive in his third at-bat, grounding out on the first pitch against lefty Brent Suter. And in his final trip to the plate, Suzuki watched three called strikes from relief ace Devin Williams.
Through three games, Suzuki has four called strikeouts to go with four walks. Ross said those strikeouts are more evidence that the outfielder is staying firmly within his approach as he continues to learn the pitchers and their repertoires.
“He knows his zone and is staying committed to that,” Ross said. “There’s not a lot of even flinching at borderline pitches. He’s also struck out looking a couple times, which tells you how committed he is to his zone, which is nice. He’s not going to chase.
“If he stays right there, I think he’ll continue to learn these pitchers, learn the environment and continue on the path he’s on.”
Throughout Spring Training, Suzuki explained that getting his timing down was the biggest adjustment, given the difference in deliveries and pitching style between Japan and the Majors.
During the spring, Suzuki hit two home runs — one with a toe tap and one with his usual high leg kick. Cubs hitting coach Greg Brown explained that those mechanical adjustments showed Suzuki’s ability to adjust to different pitchers in order to find the right timing mechanism.
“He’s really smart and figures things out. He’s creative,” Brown said. “He understands the flow of the pitcher-hitter dynamic, and he’s willing to take educated chances, like guesses, as to like, ‘OK, this is where I need to be to put myself on time to hit.’
“And I think if you look at it, the swing, it’s really good. Efficiencies, all those things, are really good. It really essentially comes down to timing and plate discipline. And the better timing he has, the better swing decisions he’s going to make.”
It all came together in one powerful swing Sunday.
“He can rake,” Cubs starter Marcus Stroman said. “[He’s] someone who I think is going to bring a little fear to opposing pitching staffs and someone who’s going to be a main dude in that top-three, top-four part of the lineup for years to come.”