Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki diagnosed with ‘moderate’ oblique strain

Suzuki officially withdrew from the World Baseball Classic on Monday night.

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Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki likely won’t return to the lineup in time for Opening Day.

Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki likely won’t return to the lineup in time for Opening Day.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki felt a little tightness leading up to his oblique injury, but it was nothing he was worried about. Then, on a batting-practice swing, something felt wrong.

The Cubs scratched Suzuki from the spring-training opener, and a few days later, they had clarity on his diagnosis. Imaging showed a “moderate” strain of his left oblique, the Cubs announced Tuesday. The team would not provide a specific timetable for Suzuki’s return. But it would be surprising if he was back for Opening Day, which is about a month away.

“The goal for us is when he’s back, we don’t lose him again,” manager David Ross said. “So pushing toward some date that we all look forward to doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We want him to get back completely healthy. And if that’s Opening Day, great. If it’s five days in, great. And if it’s two weeks in, fine.”

If Suzuki missing the Cubs’ first few spring-training games hadn’t already made it clear, the diagnosis left no room for ambiguity: -Suzuki won’t be able to play for Team -Japan in the World Baseball Classic. He officially withdrew Monday night.

“It’s really unfortunate that it had to come down to this decision,” he said. “I know a lot of people were excited to see me out there playing.”

Suzuki had adjusted his offseason program to be ready to play meaningful games in March. And with the long MLB season in mind, he put on 20 pounds. His bulked-up frame became a feel-good storyline early in spring as he showed off his strength in explosive batting-practice sessions without sacrificing his speed.

The oblique injury served as a sobering twist.

“He did a nice job of getting himself stronger and his body in a good place to where he wanted to be in the offseason to come in and help us win,” Ross said. “Now we’ve got to slow things down a hair. But he was in a really good place before he got hurt, so hopefully this process won’t take too long, and we’ll get him back as soon as possible.”

In a sport that requires a lot of trunk rotation, oblique injuries are notoriously fickle. Reaggravating the injury prolongs recovery time, so, especially this early in the year, the Cubs will take a cautious approach with Suzuki’s rehab.

“If I’m out there, I want to be 100% in terms of my performance,” Suzuki said. “So that’s what I’m going to focus on.”

Last season, Suzuki tried to push through a finger sprain and avoid the injured list. He landed on the IL all the same and was sidelined for almost six weeks.

“It’s a long time when you’re out,” Suzuki said. “You kind of want to rush yourself to be back there, and I think that’s a problem.”

Third baseman Patrick Wisdom and first baseman Trey Mancini, who have experience in the outfield, are among the leading 40-man-roster candidates to replace Suzuki in right field. But Wisdom has been dealing with tightness in his left groin.

The Cubs have downplayed the injury, and Ross even put Wisdom in the lineup as the designated hitter Tuesday. But a couple of hours before the game against the Brewers, Wisdom was scratched for a second consecutive day.

Ross also has mentioned non-roster invitee Mike Tauchman among the outfielders in the mix to fill in for Suzuki. Tauchman started in right field after going 3-for-3 Monday against the Guardians.

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