Seiya Suzuki makes strong first impression in Cubs’ Opening Day victory against Brewers
Seiya Suzuki started in right field and hit sixth in the order Thursday at Wrigley Field.
As the stands at Wrigley Field slowly filled with fans bundled in Cubbie blue, outfielder Seiya Suzuki for the first time watched the ballpark come alive.
He had visited Wrigley three weeks earlier, on a quick trip to Chicago before signing a five-year, $85 million contract with the Cubs.
But Opening Day, even in 44-degree weather, was something else entirely. Suzuki had expected to be nervous.
‘‘It was actually really fun,’’ Suzuki said through an interpreter. ‘‘In all my at-bats, I was able to be myself.’’
The Cubs’ 5-4 victory Thursday against the Brewers marked Suzuki’s MLB debut. He went 1-for-2 with two walks.
The first stages of Suzuki’s on-field adjustment played out in spring training. And it wasn’t just that the four-time Nippon Professional Baseball all-star struck out in his first two Cactus League at-bats before eventually hitting a pair of home runs and then logging a multihit game in his last spring-training appearance.
‘‘Everybody always talks about the velo,’’ Cubs hitting coach Greg Brown said of the difference between MLB and Japan, ‘‘but it’s also the disruption of timing and mechanics, like through slide steps. Deliveries are different, right? You face [Cubs right-hander Marcus] Stroman, and he gives you 17 different [looks]. I think that [Suzuki’s] creativeness and being able to adapt to the pitcher at that time is something that I’ve probably been the most impressed with.’’
Suzuki’s timing started to click when he realized that, instead of replicating his stride, he would be better off moving with the pitcher. Facing Stroman in an intrasquad scrimmage last week was an especially helpful test.
‘‘He’s my teammate, but there’s so many things that I felt like I needed to work on after my at-bats against Stroman,’’ Suzuki said after going 2-for-3 this week in a spring-training game against the White Sox. ‘‘And that’s what I did in my at-bats [Monday].’’
Stroman was equally complimentary, saying he was careful about putting anything in the strike zone against Suzuki.
‘‘He can rake, man,’’ Stroman said. ‘‘He can rake. He’s got a great approach. He’s got a lot of power. He’s someone where you can’t make mistakes.’’
The way Cubs video coordinator and Pacific Rim liaison Nao Masamoto sees it, the biggest adjustment to major-league pitching varies from player to player. Masamoto, who was a standout Division III baseball player himself, also worked closely with Kosuke Fukudome during his Cubs tenure.
‘‘It’s not just the baseball, it’s everything else, right?’’ Masamoto said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. ‘‘Your lifestyle’s changing 180 degrees. When you wake up, it’s just different. So I’m pretty sure that plays into how you perform on the baseball field, too.’’
Cubs bench coach Andy Green can attest to the drastic shift after leaving MLB to play a season in Japan in 2007.
‘‘You end up on the other side of the world, your day is night and night is day, you can’t speak to anybody without an interpreter and you’re not sure what practice looks like,’’ Green said. ‘‘ . . . For me, it was a really tough transition.’’
In the last few weeks, he has watched Suzuki seemingly adapt quickly to the things that were hard for Green.
Suzuki faced reigning National League Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes in his first two MLB plate appearances Thursday. He drew a two-strike walk in the second inning, then lined a single to left field in the fifth.
That single started the Cubs’ biggest rally of the game. Suzuki eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Patrick Wisdom, tying the score 1-1. Shortstop Nico Hoerner then gave the Cubs the lead by belting a two-run home run — his first homer since September 2019 — in the same inning.
‘‘Obviously a really great pitcher, and there was some stuff that I’d never seen before,’’ Suzuki said, referring to Burnes’ cutter. ‘‘So it was really fun. But I came to this stage to challenge myself and to be able to face pitchers of that caliber. It’s going to bring my game to another level.’’
Suzuki still will have learning moments. As teams gather more data on him, they’ll adjust. He, in turn, will react to the new way pitchers approach him. But with his debut, Suzuki made a strong impression on the crowd at Wrigley.