It will be difficult to produce a more impressive 3-for-4 day than Kurt Suzuki enjoyed Sunday in Cincinnati. To put it simply, he blasted the ball all over Great American Ball Park against two pitchers who seldom allow hitters to blast the ball.
In his first at-bat, with the Nationals trailing 3-0 in the second inning and the pitcher hitting behind him, Suzuki crushed a three-run home run to left field off Reds ace Johnny Cueto. Last season, Cueto allowed only 0.62 homers per nine innings, seventh best in the majors.
Cueto allowed the rest of the Nationals just a single and a walk before Suzuki came to the plate again, and then Suzuki drilled a booming double to the left-center field gap. He flied out to center off Cueto in the sixth.
In his final at-bat, Suzuki smashed another off the wall against Aroldis Chapman, a truly rare feat. In facing 18 batters other than Suzuki this season, Chapman has whiffed nine, walked two and allowed one hit – a single by Mike Trout. Against the Nationals over the weekend, he struck out five of the seven hitters he faced. Major league hitters have taken 553 plate appearances against Chapman in his career, and they have managed only 20 extra-base hits.
Before Sunday’s game, Suzuki shared a conversation with Tyler Moore about the importance of minimalism in hitting. Last year, after arriving with the Nationals, Suzuki thrived on aggression at the plate. He wants to replicate that scaled-down approach this year.
“Just trying to keep it simple, not trying to over-think myself,” Suzuki said. “You just want to attack the ball. Just swing hard, and hopefully you hit it.”
Only one week of the season has expired, so consume with caution. But the Nationals have so far received more production from their catcher spot than any team in the majors, with the possible exception of the Carlos Santana-powered Indians. Wilson Ramos and Suzuki have combined hit .389 (third in the majors, by team, among catchers) with a .500 on-base percentage (second) and a 1.000 slugging percentage (first).
As referenced above, one week of stats is a sample to be scoffed at, not studied. For the Nationals’ duo, though, there seems to be some significance from their hot starts. Ramos has proven himself all the way back, and then some, from an ACL tear. Suzuki has suggested his hot streak to end 2012 was not a fluke, and that he can handle playing every other day.
When he arrived last year, Suzuki pointed to a dearth of playing time in Oakland as one reason for his season-long slump with the A’s. To stay sharp as a hitter, he actually focuses more on his catching. Seeing pitches from behind the plate, he said, is just as helpful as swinging at them from beside it.
“My hitting routine is just kind of the same thing every day,” Suzuki said. “I don’t really do too much. I don’t like to take extra swings. I feel like catching bullpens for me is pretty good, because I feel like I can track the ball to me. It gives me a little more seeing the ball coming towards me.”