Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki finding rhythm at plate, but he’s not satisfied

Suzuki hit a key sacrifice fly, two doubles and a home run in the Cubs’ last series.

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Seiya Suzuki entered the Cubs’ game against the Astros Tuesday batting .281 with runners in scoring position.

Seiya Suzuki entered the Cubs’ game against the Astros Tuesday batting .281 with runners in scoring position.

David J. Phillip/AP

HOUSTON — Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki steered the conversation Tuesday away from his home run last weekend in Minnesota. The hit was a sign of what he has been doing well lately — finding his timing, cutting down on ground balls — but that wasn’t what was important to him.

‘‘All the games previous to that, I feel like there could have been more games where we could have won,’’ he told the Sun-Times through an interpreter. ‘‘And I feel kind of liable because it’s my job to get those runs in as I slot into that No. 4 position [in the lineup].’’

Suzuki has shown positive signs in the last week, hitting more doubles and drawing more walks. He had a delayed start to the season because of the strained oblique muscle he suffered just before spring-training games began. And his rehab stint amounted to a short spring training.

When asked before the Cubs’ 7-3 loss to the Astros what the biggest challenge of that sped-up process was, his answer was telling.

‘‘Ever since I made that comeback from my injury, I’ve been in a lot of instances where there were a lot of runners in scoring position, and I couldn’t get the lead for the team,’’ Suzuki said. ‘‘And so I felt pretty bad for the team.’’

He said nothing about the limited at-bats to get ready or his interrupted progression. It was the disappointment of stranding runners in scoring position.

Manager Davis Ross smiled when he heard about Suzuki’s response.

‘‘The guys that are at this level — and especially guys with a [big] contract — they’re hard on themselves,’’ Ross said. ‘‘They have high expectations, expect almost perfection, which is really tough in this game. He’s hit the ball extremely hard. And the quality of the at-bats, the quality of contact has been there.’’

Entering play Tuesday, Suzuki had grounded into a double play with runners in scoring position three times, which seemed to stick in his mind. But he also was hitting .281 and had driven in 10 runs in those situations.

Hitting the ball hard in the air more consistently should help. His ground-ball rate went from 48.8% in 15 games in April to 28.6% so far this month, according to Statcast.

‘‘Hitting the ball on the ground was a product, for me, of just still finding his timing,’’ Ross said. ‘‘And then spread out a little bit more, trying to make things happen, touch the baseball, still hitting it hard but on the ground.

‘‘I think now that he feels confident and consistent with his timing and approach — I see a more consistent timing mechanism with the leg kick and everything — that allows him to get back and drive the ball and get it in the air a little bit more when he gets loaded.’’

Suzuki has toyed with his timing mechanism throughout his time in the big leagues, with a toe-tap on one side of the spectrum and a leg kick on the other.

‘‘It depends on the pitcher that I’m facing that night,’’ Suzuki said. ‘‘It also depends on how I’m feeling at the plate. If it’s necessary for me to go no-step that day, then I will go no-step. But if not, then I’ll just stick to my regular leg kick.’’

Lately, he has settled into a stride between a high leg kick and a toe-tap.

Suzuki said his timing and swing feel good. But the results were still eating at him, even though he had a key sacrifice fly, two doubles and a homer in the Cubs’ last series before adding a two-run homer in the ninth inning Tuesday.

‘‘I still feel like I’m not there yet,’’ he said, ‘‘not exactly where I want to be.’’

Then, in the ninth inning Tuesday, with Christopher Morel standing on second, Suzuki launched a two-run home run.

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