When the Cubs signed Seiya Suzuki to a five-year, $85 million contract on March 18, they were obviously hoping he’d have a quick, seamless transition to the major leagues. Considering the myriad obstacles Suzuki was facing, it seemed like a tall order.
Suzuki needed to meet new teammates, overcome a language barrier, learn about a new city and — oh, yeah — see if he could deal with major-league pitching.
Indeed, few would have blamed Suzuki if he limped out of the gate.
Instead, the 27-year-old has absolutely blown away his teammates and coaches — not to mention opposing pitchers — by belting four home runs and driving in 11 runs in the Cubs’ first 10 games.
“He’s the best player that I’ve ever played with to be honest,” said catcher Willson Contreras after the Cubs dropped a 6-5 decision to Tampa Bay at Wrigley Field on Tuesday. “His plate discipline is insane. “Everything that he does on the field, the way he takes care of himself (on) and off the field is amazing.”
Suzuki did have a nine-game hitting streak snapped against the Rays, but he walked three times to raise his league-leading on-base percentage to an eye-popping .581. The hitting streak is the longest by a Cub to begin a major-league career since Andy Pafko’s nine-gamer in 1943. It’s also tied with Akinori Iwamuray (2007 Rays) for the longest streak to begin a career for a Japanese-born player.
Suzuki was almost in disbelief when told of Contreras’ high praise. After smiling, he said the following through an interpreter: “Obviously Willson’s a player that’s been playing here for a long time and he’s been one of the greatest catchers in the major leagues. To be able to hear something like that for is something I’m very, very thankful for.”
Suzuki batted fourth, fifth or sixth in the lineup his first nine starts, but manager David Ross moved his right fielder up to the No. 2 spot against the Rays.
“I just told him Mike Trout hits there,” Ross said. “Doesn’t he want to hit there? That’s an easy selling point.”
The Cubs (6-5) fell behind the Rays 4-0 on Tuesday, then rallied by scoring 3 in the bottom of the fourth. Frank Schwindel (RBI double) and Patrick Wisdom (pinch hit 2-run homer) delivered the big blows.
Tampa Bay (6-6) made it 6-3 by scoring twice in the seventh, but the Cubs closed within a run again thanks to an RBI triple by Nico Hoerner and a run-scoring wild pitch from reliever Ryan Thompson.
Suzuki, who is now hitting .414, played a key part in the seventh-inning rally by drawing a two-out walk.
“In his situation, which is not like most, it’s unfair to not call it unique,” said fellow outfielder Jason Heyward. “It’s awesome for him to come in and contribute right away. ... You’re happy to see a guy like that get results.”
“It is a long season,” said Jed Hoyer, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations. “There’s gonna be peaks and valleys, of course. But we’re thrilled he’s a Cub, not only (because of) the stuff he’s been doing in the batter’s box ... but just fitting in as a teammate. Being a gregarious, funny teammate and doing it in a second language is incredibly difficult.
“The guys on the team love him. He’s been a great addition. ... It’s been a lot of fun to watch so far.”