Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki gained 20 pounds preparing for second MLB season, WBC

Cubs right-hander Marcus Stroman has also been a big proponent of the World Baseball Classic.

SHARE Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki gained 20 pounds preparing for second MLB season, WBC
The Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki grabs a glove prior to heading out to practice.

The Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki grabs a glove prior to heading out to practice.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — Cubs right fielder Seiya Suzuki had to choose between his first normal spring training or starring for Team Japan alongside Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish in the World Baseball Classic. Understandably, he chose the latter.

‘‘This year, there’s a lot of good players that are going to be in the tournament,’’ Suzuki said through an interpreter Monday. ‘‘I talked to the manager for Team Japan [Hideki Kuriyama], and he gave me some really good words, and it really motivated me to start a little earlier this spring and play for Japan.’’

Suzuki and right-hander Marcus Stroman, who announced his intention to play for Team Puerto Rico last summer, were the first Cubs to commit to the WBC.

In all, 17 members of the organization were selected to WBC rosters, including five from the Cubs’ 40-man roster (also Nelson Velazquez, Puerto Rico; Javier Assad, Mexico; and Miles Mastrobuoni, Italy) and six non-roster invitees (Matt Mervis, Israel; Roenis Elias, Cuba; Vinny Nittoli, Italy; Ben DeLuzio, Italy; Jared Young, Canada; and Danis Correa, Colombia). Owen Caissie (Canada) headlines the other Cubs prospects headed to the tournament.

‘‘I would always encourage anybody to play in the WBC,’’ Stroman said, ‘‘because it’s truly a one of one, very unique experience that you don’t get even playing MLB.’’

Stroman, then representing the United States, and Suzuki also played in the last WBC, which took place in 2017. Team USA eliminated Japan with a 2-1 victory in the semifinals, then went on to beat Puerto Rico in the championship game. Stroman carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning of the title game and won tournament MVP.

Now Stroman says he’s beyond excited to represent Puerto Rico and his mother’s heritage.

‘‘My mother is my heart,’’ he said. ‘‘She’s my rock, she’s my best friend, she’s my blood, so anytime I can represent that woman. I love her more than anything.’’

Stroman brushed off concerns about the effects of playing meaningful games before launching into a long season. He threw 201 innings and two complete games in 2017.

‘‘It was the best thing possible,’’ he said. ‘‘I felt so strong. I felt like I was midseason-ready on my first start of the year.’’

For Suzuki, the calculus was a little different. Last season was his first in the United States, and the lockout pushed his free agency into spring training. When he signed with the Cubs in mid-March, he only had three weeks with his new team before Opening Day.

His first major-league season had peaks and valleys, as expected. He won Rookie of the Month honors in April, cooled off and battled a lingering finger injury in the middle of the season, then finished strong.

‘‘I thought he was comfortable last year,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘But getting to know the culture, the food, the travel, the league — if you saw him at times facing another pitcher the second time around, maybe another start in-division, he just had better at-bats, knew what guys were trying to do to him. So he’s going to continue to get more comfortable every single year. But he looks like he’s in a really good place.’’

Suzuki added strength — 20 pounds of it — to improve his swing speed, first step and stamina during the course of a long season with a lot of travel.

‘‘I just want to make sure I don’t get injured during the season,’’ he said. ‘‘Just do my best to contribute to the team and obviously win a championship.’’

First, however, he’ll go after the WBC championship.

NOTE:The Cubs officially added reliever Michael Fulmer to the roster, clearing a spot for him by putting reliever Codi Heuer (recovery from Tommy John surgery) on the 60-day injured list. Fulmer signed a one-year, $4 million contract, a source confirmed last week.

The Latest
They were detached at times, but fans showed they knew all the words to “LISA” and “Riri.”
Yet, the Sueños headliner filled Grant Park for the first night of Chicago’s biggest annual Latin music event.
A back-and-forth game Saturday provided plenty of drama as the Cubs suffered their eighth loss in 11 games.
“We didn’t execute well at all,” Sky coach Teresa Weatherspoon said. “It looked like we got mixed up on some things we were trying to do, not in the right positions.”