Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki progressing smoothly, hitting home runs in batting practice

Suzuki will start the season on the injured list with a strained left oblique.

SHARE Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki progressing smoothly, hitting home runs in batting practice
Cubs right fielder Seiya Suzuki has been sidelined with a strained left oblique since spring training games began. File photo.

Cubs right fielder Seiya Suzuki has been sidelined with a strained left oblique since spring training games began. File photo.

John Antonoff / for the Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — Right fielder Seiya Suzuki’s first home run in a batting-practice session Saturday was a good sign. The second was a no-doubter, towering over the left-field fence of a practice field at the Cubs’ spring-training complex.

‘‘It’s nice and loud out there,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘Coming off the bat well, [on] home runs, I need to close my eyes.’’

Ross didn’t want to get too excited, and the Cubs don’t want to rush Suzuki’s rehab process.

Suzuki will throw to bases, Ross said, then play defense in some minor-league games soon. The Cubs want him to build up the endurance needed to play in the field, and they can ease him into taking at-bats in games further down the line.

Suzuki has been building up his workload, both throwing and hitting, but he isn’t expected to take live at-bats until after the Cubs leave for Chicago early this week.

Suzuki’s steady progress could change the Cubs’ Opening Day roster calculation.

‘‘Whether you are trying to put somebody on the [40-man] roster that’s not on it or trying to fill a gap for 10 days is a big deal,’’ Ross said. ‘‘And it’s a big decision. We have so much talent and a lot of depth here. We would like to keep as much as we possibly can because of the long journey we’re about to start.’’

Sampson optioned

The Cubs reassigned reliever Vinny Nittoli to minor-league camp and optioned right-hander Adrian Sampson to Triple-A Iowa, ending his bid for a Opening Day rotation spot.

‘‘The messaging for him was simple,’’ Ross said of Sampson. ‘‘He’s earned a lot of trust around here with his performance in the big leagues. Didn’t have the spring he wanted; the long ball got him a little bit. And just go down and get locked in to where he knows he needs to be.’’

Sampson gave up 11 home runs this spring, more than he allowed in 21 major-league appearances last season. Ross named right-hander Hayden Wesneski the Cubs’ fifth starter.

‘‘As much as we try not to judge spring-training stats . . . Hayden pitched much better,’’ Ross said. ‘‘The great thing about Adrian is he’s a worker. And my message to him was that he’s going to help us this year for long periods of time.’’

Hughes takes ‘step in right direction’

Left-hander Brandon Hughes got some positive feedback in a side session at Sloan Park.

‘‘From a pitch-data perspective, it was good,’’ pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. ‘‘From an eyes perspective, mechanically, I thought he’s taken a step in the right direction.’’

Hughes has been dealing with an issue in his left knee this spring. He had surgery in 2015 to repair the meniscus in the same knee, and he had been able to manage the injury since then. But a flare-up this spring started to affect his performance.

‘‘He’s feeling better, so that’s the most important thing,’’ Hottovy said.

The Cubs expected more complete biomechanical data on Hughes later Saturday.

‘‘Some of the feedback I gave him was just getting back to what his strengths are and let me see that a little bit more,’’ Ross said.

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