The Chicago Cubs expected outfielder Seiya Suzuki to endure an adjustment period at some point as he gets used to his new league.
A stellar performance in the first two weeks earned Suzuki Player of the Week fame and helped lead them to National League Rookie of the Month honors for April.
But Suzuki’s aggressive production in Wednesday’s series finale against the White Sox highlighted the challenges facing the Cubs. Since April 19, Suzuki has been hitting .167 in 13 games with .245 on-base percentage, .495 OPS, four doubles, five walks and 17 strikes.
Suzuki does not see the teams pitching him differently, and manager David Ross agrees with the correct fielder’s assessment. Ross believes that Suzuki is working through the timing issue at the plate.
“Playing every single day and starting so smooth, they’re getting a little bit more aggressive,” Ross said. “He’s fouled a few pitches I thought he should have hit, but for the most part I think it’s just a timing issue.
“He started over and surprised everyone, like, Wow, this guy is taking the league by storm, right? And now you see the league type of adjustment, and that’s back in the same boat to accommodate the pitchers. …he has to go through ups and downs and flow like everyone else in the season.”
From day 1, Suzuki has displayed a good understanding of the strike zone and the boundaries while chasing pitches out of it. However, he is also taking several cold strikes. Suzuki’s 99 call strike is third in Major League Baseball entering Wednesday, trailing Kyle Schwarber and Jake Cronenworth. In the process, Suzuki’s strikeout has increased while its run rate has decreased during the two-week slump.
Some of Suzuki’s struggles can be attributed to the types of pitches it has not hit well, such as the cutter. Hitting coach Greg Brown doesn’t point to a specific issue for Suzuki’s recent results.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the specifics of this,” Brown said Wednesday. “At the end of the year, I think his numbers will be where they should have been. For him, it’s more about being steady in his preparation process because there’s going to be a lot of stretch and there isn’t going to happen.
“Every night he gives you that glimpse, even if he’s not going as well as he was, that he’s in a good place.”
The increase in Suzuki taking more cold strikes is not a concern for Brown. Sometimes slumping players will swing more, said Brown, who doesn’t necessarily see this as an answer.
“I admire the way he goes about it because he uses every pitch as a learning process,” Brown said. “So sometimes a guy comes out there and takes three pitches, and it doesn’t work out very well. But he’s pretty much a student of what he’s been doing in his craft with Hit.
“We see signs of it every day and that’s how he’s going about it.”
Suzuki’s plate approach lends itself to getting out of its funk. There’s no guarantee when this will happen, but Ross still feels comfortable placing Suzuki in the No. 2 spot of the order, despite some struggles. Clearly Suzuki is committed to its strategy of limiting swings and misses, especially off the field.
The Cubs hope that Suzuki’s patience and growing familiarity with major-league pitchers will pay off.
“If you start expanding, you really start expanding,” Brown said. “Staying within the limits of their vision leads to long-term success. That would be my goal.”