How Kurt Suzuki worked with Nationals coaches to shorten his swing, spark hitting surge

Kurt Suzuki was first tasked with learning a new pitching staff when he arrived in Washington in a trade from Oakland a month ago, but still had to bat. While the 28-year-old understood then and now that his primary goal is his catching duties, he took pride in his hitting and has worked with Nationals Manager Davey Johnson and hitting coach Rick Eckstein to tweak his swing.

They noticed some room for improvement and made minor adjustments and since then, Suzuki is hitting 8 for 19 (.421) with two home runs five RBI and only one strikeout over the past six games.

When he arrived in Washington, Suzuki was hitting .218 with one home run and 18 RBI in 75 games for the Athletics. Here, he was reunited with Johnson and Eckstein, who knew him as a potent hitter on the USA baseball team during the 2008 Olympic qualifiers. (Johnson was the team’s manager and Eckstein was bench coach.)

“I thought when he first got here, he actually had a little bigger swing, he was swinging up on the ball, a little longer swing,” Johnson said. “Eckstein’s done a good job. We had him in Cuba in the Olympic qualifier and he swung the bat good there, we liked him a whole lot … He had a nice short, quick strong then. When he came over, he was a little long, but he’s getting back to it.”

On Wednesday, Suzuki flashed that shorter, compact swing, smashing a home run to deep left field. On Sunday, he drilled another home run just over the left field wall. He has sprayed singles around the field.

“That’s what we have really been doing is really take the effort out of the swing,” Suzuki said. “Just kind of be nice and easy, free and easy, which the less tension you have it is going to be a lot quicker. That’s kind of the route we are going right now.”

Before this season, Suzuki was a .250 hitter, averaging 14 home runs and over 65 RBI over the previous three years. But this season in Oakland, he was struggling, in part because he was sharing playing time. The Nationals acquired Suzuki for his renowned defense and for his proven track record as a capable hitter.

In Washington, what may have helped was having a new set of eyes and coaches spot hitches in his swing and offer advice. Suzuki said he had a great relationship with Oakland hitting coach Chili Davis.

“Coming here, Eck adding a little bit of input, and sometimes when you get other sources saying something, I’m always open to learning new things and trying to get better,” Suzuki said. “Having somebody else try to help you out and just give you a little bit more insight it takes a little bit of everything. There’s not one perfect guy. There’s people you learn [from] over the course of the season, over the course of your career.”

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