Seiya Suzuki’s first at-bat since Friday ended with a recurring sight over the last few weeks.
In a favorable matchup against left-handed reliever Brooks Raley in the eighth inning of Monday’s loss to the New York Mets, Suzuki fell behind 1-2 in the count before a caught-in-the-middle half-swing on a changeup down and out of the zone ended his pinch-hitting appearance with a strikeout.
Chicago Cubs manager David Ross gave Suzuki a mental reset after a hitless, two-strikeout performance Friday against the Atlanta Braves, who started lefty Max Fried. In the second season of a five-year, $85 million contract, Suzuki has started only two of the Cubs’ eight games in August. He’s hitting .215 in 20 games since the All-Star break while struggling to draw walks, contributing to a .276 on-base percentage.
“When things don’t really work out, obviously for a long stretch, it becomes a mental thing,” Suzuki said Tuesday through interpreter Toy Matsushita. “During that span, I just couldn’t organize what was the first thing to work on.
“The other guys that are out there are the guys who are getting results, so that’s just part of the game. That’s where I’ve got to step up and make sure I can get my spot back.”
Suzuki will be back in the lineup Wednesday against Mets left-hander David Peterson, Ross said Tuesday. Mike Tauchman’s reliability has allowed Ross to take advantage of Tauchman’s quality at-bats dating to mid-June. He has a .277/.346/.482 slash line and 16 extra-base hits in that 38-game span.
Tauchman again came through for the Cubs in Tuesday’s 3-2 win at Citi Field, connecting for the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning. The Cubs returned to 1 1/2 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, who lost in 10 innings to the Colorado Rockies.
Confidence comes with results, which have eluded Suzuki too often, and not being in the lineup lately hasn’t helped. Suzuki noted, though, that “I‘m confident in what I did to get here, and so now all I need to do is get out there, get those results and I think I’ll get more confidence.”
The Cubs’ offensive success over the last couple of weeks created the opportunity to bench Suzuki and let him work through his struggles. The Cubs still believe in Suzuki and know there is a great hitter within him that still can make an impact for this team. Sometimes being removed from the day-to-day grind can help a hitter refocus and work through mechanical issues with his swing.
“All these guys are hypercompetitive and they want to be in there, they want to help the team win,” hitting coach Dustin Kelly told the Tribune. “I think he understood the chance for him to take a step back, iron out a couple of things that we’ve been talking about mechanically, but also dialing in the approach and get back on the fastball timing.
“When you sit back and watch the game a little bit, you realize that it’s not quite as fast as what you’ve been making it. I think that’s what’s happened — things started to speed up on him a little bit.”
The mechanical adjustments have centered on Suzuki’s head movement. The more his head and eyes move, Kelly explained, pitch recognition goes out the window.
“We’ve really talked about steadying the head and being in a really good hitting position as he starts going forward, and I think mechanically he’s got that part out of the way,” Kelly said. “He’s in a really good spot. Now it becomes plan, approach, sticking to that approach and just being confident.”
When a hitter gets out of sync at the plate, it can be challenging to push through those stretches while searching for what to work on. Suzuki has felt better with his swing and been encouraged by his batting practice sessions, but “when I get into the game, I guess I get too eager to get those results.”
“So to get those results,” he said, “I feel like I need to relax a little bit more and just be more calm, and that’s what I’m going to do when I get in the box.”
The hesitation Suzuki shows in moments such as Monday’s pinch-hitting appearance, when he gets stuck with an indecisive swing, repeatedly has put him in bad positions.
“I feel like I’ve been swinging at pitches that I didn’t want to,” he said. “All I need to do is just be more relaxed, be more calm, be more confident, and that’s what I’m trying to do moving forward.”
Suzuki is his harshest critic, holding himself to such a high standard that even good games don’t satisfy him. As he works through the toughest stretch of his young MLB career, he still is learning about himself too.
“When I think about too many things,” he said, “it’s not going to be good for me.”