CHICAGO — Seiya Suzuki returned from Japan earlier this week, following a trip home to attend the birth of his first child. The Cubs outfielder also stepped back into the Wrigley Field clubhouse with most of his dark hair dyed a light shade of blond.
Suzuki cracked a smile when asked why he had the new look.
“The baby keeps on crying all night,” Suzuki joked through his interpreter, Toy Matsushita. “It’s all the stress.”
From the day Suzuki arrived at Spring Training for the Cubs — fresh off signing a five-year, $85 million contract — that sense of humor and easygoing personality broke through the language barrier. That has helped the outfielder fit in with his new team, while navigating through a challenging first Major League season.
In Friday’s 6-1 win over the Reds, Suzuki singled and scored in the third to help spark a three-run outburst that backed a strong start by Adrian Sampson. It was another solid performance in a stretch of improved offensive play for the highly touted rookie, who has gone through plenty of learning this year.
“Numbers-wise, I feel like I’m not satisfied,” Suzuki said. “I feel I can do a little better. But I think the most important thing is, I’m getting used to life here. And that’s going to be a huge benefit for me next year, and baseball-wise, too. I’m excited for what I can do next.”
Suzuki has played in 106 games, having missed June due to a left ring finger injury and then stepping away for nearly two weeks this month for the arrival of his son. Overall, he has hit .266 with 13 homers, 22 doubles, 45 RBIs and a .777 OPS for the Cubs.
What does not show up in those statistics is the adjustment Suzuki had to make to traveling across time zones or learning the physical toll of a long MLB season, which includes long stretches with no days off. Suzuki now feels better prepared to adopt an offseason training program to help some of those elements.
“He talks a lot about being as strong as he possibly can,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Strength and conditioning and taking care of his body is really important to him. He feels like that’s going to put him in a position to perform. I think he’s identified all those things and knows the work he wants to put in.
“And he’s a hard worker. I have no doubt to come back next year ready to go.”
Suzuki was dealing with jet lag when he rejoined the Cubs on Wednesday, but the outfielder was quick to get back in the batting cage. He then tripled in his first game back in the lineup on Thursday. Asked if he will take any time off when this season ends, Suzuki said he planned on getting right to work for 2023.
“I’m going to start hitting in the cage on Day 1,” Suzuki said.
Cubs hitting coach Greg Brown was part of the group that flew to Los Angeles for the Spring Training recruiting dinner when Suzuki was a free agent. After learning how Suzuki operates behind the scenes, Brown said he expects the outfielder will use video in the coming months to compare how his swing feels to the visual feedback.
“He’s got really good proprioception feel of where his body is in space,” Brown said. “So, I think that when you look at probably what he’s going to do from a regimen standpoint, he’ll really hone in on those internal cues, as well as then challenging himself through machine work.”
Brown added that Suzuki’s “drive to be great” is exceptionally high, and that is echoed in the outfielder’s own words.
Suzuki was asked if he believes he can return in 2023 as an All-Star level player for the Cubs.
“This stage, it’s where all the best of the best are,” Suzuki said. “You can learn from a lot, and I know what’s needed to be able to be one of the best. I’m going to work on that during the offseason.”
Suzuki is also hopeful that another motivating factor will be present with the Cubs next year.
“Personal statistics is important, but for me I think the most important [thing] is winning,” Suzuki said. “When you win, the atmosphere in the locker room is amazing. That’s when I want to feel next year. I want to win, win with this team and win a championship.”