The Chicago Cubs expected outfielder Seiya Suzuki to endure an adjustment period at some point as he gets used to his new league.
A sizzling first two weeks earned Suzuki player of the week recognition and helped carry him to National League Rookie of the Month honors for April.
But Suzuki’s offensive production the last two weeks entering Wednesday’s series finale against the White Sox highlight the challenges the Cubs anticipated he would face. Since April 19, Suzuki is hitting .167 with a .245 on-base percentage, .495 OPS, four doubles, five walks and 17 strikeouts in 13 games.
Suzuki doesn’t see teams pitching him differently, and manager David Ross agreed with the right fielder’s assessment. Ross believes Suzuki is working through a timing issue at the plate.
“Playing every single day and starting off so comfortable, they’re being a little more aggressive,” Ross said. “He’s fouled off a couple pitches I think he thought he should have should have hit, but for the most part I think it’s just a timing issue.
“He started off and was surprising to everyone, like, wow, this guy’s taking the league by storm right? And now you see the league kind of adjust, and he’s also in that same boat of adjusting back to pitchers. … He’s got to go through the ebbs and flows like everybody else in the season.”
From Day 1, Suzuki has displayed a good understanding of the strike zone and limits chasing pitches out of it. However, he is also taking a lot of called strikes. Suzuki’s 99 called strikes rank third-most in Major League Baseball entering Wednesday, trailing Kyle Schwarber and Jake Cronenworth. In the process, Suzuki’s strikeouts have increased while his walk rate has diminished during the two-week slump.
Some of Suzuki’s struggles can be attributed to pitch types, such as a cutter, he hasn’t hit well. Hitting coach Greg Brown doesn’t point to one specific issue for Suzuki’s recent results.
“It’s easy to get caught in the minutiae of it,” Brown said Tuesday. “At the end of the year, I think that his numbers are going to be where they’re supposed to be. For him, it’s more about staying steady in his process of how he prepares because there’s going to be great stretches and there’s not going to be.
“Every night he gives you that glimpse, even when he’s maybe not going as good as he was, that he’s in a good spot.”
The increase in Suzuki taking more called strikes doesn’t appear to concern Brown. Sometimes slumping players will swing more, said Brown, who doesn’t necessarily see that as the 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 is very much a student of what he’s doing in his craft with hitting.
“We see signs of that every single day and how he’s going about it.”
Suzuki’s plate approach lends to working out of his funk. There are no guarantees when that will happen, but despite some struggles Ross still feels comfortable putting Suzuki in the No. 2 spot of the order. Clearly Suzuki is committed to his strategy of trying to limit swings and misses, especially out of the zone.
The Cubs expect Suzuki’s patience and growing familiarity with major-league pitchers to pay off.
“If you start expanding, then you start really expanding,” Brown said. “Staying within the confines of his approach leads to long-term success. That would be my goal.”