Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki returned from paternity leave with a shock of bleach blonde hair on top of his head.
“The baby keeps crying all night,” Suzuki said through interpreter Toy Matsushita. “So, it’s all the stress, it’s naturally turned blonde.”
Recovering from jet lag, after traveling back from Japan, Suzuki was out of the lineup for the second straight day on Wednesday. But he’d always planned on coming back to finish his first MLB season on the field.
As expected, Suzuki’s rookie year has featured a push and pull of adjustments. He started out hot, winning Rookie of the Month in April. Then, as pitchers got more data on him and adjusted to his tendencies, he slumped, batting .211 in May before spraining his left ring finger sliding into a base late in the month.
He’s found his stride late in the season. Suzuki entered Wednesday batting .314 since mid-August. He’d already hit three home runs in September, despite being away for a week and a half for the birth of his first child.
“There’s only so many games left in the season, and for the team to let me go back to be with my wife for my firstborn is something that I’m really really appreciative for,” Suzuki said. “So, I’m going to do my best to finish off this season strong for the team.”
The way manager David Ross sees it, timing has been the biggest factor in Suzuki’s recent success.
“The stretch where he struggled, you saw a lot of timing issues and him playing with leg kicks, and spreading out, and being a little bit taller, and how to see the ball and get off his A-swing as consistently as possible. Maybe feeling for it a little bit,” Ross said. “And then you saw when he got locked in, the timing looked better, he was all connected in the box mechanically. And you saw more aggressive swings, right-center, left-center power. That’s the guy that he knows he is and we believe he is.”
Suzuki also pointed to off the field influences.
“You’ve got to put into perspective just being in a different country,” he said. “So, you’ve got to get used to a new language, new culture, new atmosphere. That’s been one of the huge factors of me being able to succeed here. And recently, I’ve been able to adapt to it pretty easily [compared to] before. So, that’s one of the most important things, getting used to life.”
Suzuki, who the Cubs signed this past spring to a five-year, $85 million deal, is an integral piece in the club’s rebuild.
“There’s definitely real signs in there of an All-Star caliber player,” Ross said.
Suzuki himself has high expectations for next year.
“Obviously, personal statistics are important,” he said. “But for me, the most important is winning. When you win, the atmosphere in the locker room is amazing. So, that’s what I want to feel next year. I want to win with this team and win a championship.”
It’s an ambitious timeline.
Both Willson Contreras and Marcus Stroman this week were frank about the work the front office has to do to supplement the young talent and make this a competitive team.
“I love what we have, I love the young group of guys,” Stroman said, when asked specifically about the pitching staff. “I’ve said it before, I think we’re a few pieces away from being really, truly competitive in the league.”
An active offseason could make competing for the division title, at least, not look so far away.
“This team is really young,” Suzuki said. “And I feel if everyone understands what their role is and improves a lot more as a player on the field, I feel like we can become a really good team. And I think we’re really close to that, so I’m really excited for what’s ahead for us.”
In the meantime, Suzuki has a season to finish. And jet lag to battle.
“I really can’t get to sleep, so it’s been pretty tough,” he said. “I get a little sleepy during the games, so don’t ever get me on camera during the game today.