Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki: Padres’ Yu Darvish ‘good influence’ and ‘superstar’

SAN DIEGO – Padres pitcher Yu Darvish couldn’t help but get in at least one jab when he welcomed Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki to San Diego this week:

“Hey, you like the warm weather here?”

In free agency this spring, Suzuki had chosen the Cubs, Darvish’s former team, over the Padres. And the weather at Wrigley Field this past month thanked him with wind, rain and bitter cold.

The Cubs’ three game series at San Diego this week gave Suzuki and Darvish a chance to catch up in person. Before the Cubs’ 7-5 win against the Padres on Wednesday, they exchanged jerseys in front of a swarm of cameras.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been able to hear Japanese,” Suzuki said with a smile, through interpreter Toy Matsushita, “so it was relieving.”

As much as Darvish may have wanted Suzuki to join him in sunny San Diego, Cubs fans also have Darvish to thank. He was one of the players Suzuki leaned on for insight as the highly-touted Japanese free agent weighed his options this spring.

Darvish had made the same transition from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball to Major League Baseball a decade ago, and he’d spent three seasons with the Cubs, a club Suzuki took interest in from the beginning.

“Not just a good influence on me, but I feel that he’s like a superstar,” Suzuki said of Darvish. “And just the fact that I know him is something that I’m very honored for.”

In addition to Darvish, Suzuki sought advice from Yoshimoto Tsutsugo and Shogo Akiyama in free agency, before he signed with the Cubs on a five-year, $85 million contract.

Former Cubs pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa didn’t have the same kind of support system of Japanese players in MLB when he went from NPB to the Cubs organization in 2013.

Fujikawa, 32 years old at the time, saw himself as kind of an older brother to the younger players in the organization, like Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.

“Now I ask them, please take care of Seiya,” Fujikawa said after talking with Hendricks, now a veteran, on the field before Wednesday’s game.

Suzuki didn’t play Wednesday as the Cubs ease him back into play after he turned his ankle on a base Monday. Suzuki left that game early, with right ankle soreness, and pinch hit in the ninth inning Tuesday.

Even if he was fully healthy, Suzuki wouldn’t have faced Darvish this week. The right-hander’s next start is scheduled for Friday at Atlanta.

“I’ve only seen him pitch on TV, never in a real game,” said Suzuki, whose NPB career came after Darvish left for MLB. “So, I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to come soon. But by then I want to make sure I could get a hit off him. Because at this moment, he’s going to get me out.”

The Cubs face the Padres again next month, at Wrigley Field.

On this week’s trip, Darvish gave Suzuki restaurant recommendations in San Diego. And after the initial banter, Darvish did assure Suzuki that Chicago would get warmer than it was last week.

“So, I’m looking forward to it,” Suzuki said, “but also at the same time, I’m kind of worried if it’s true or not.”

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