Suzuki benefiting from hitting work with Eckstein
By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com
WASHINGTON — For his first two weeks in a Nationals uniform, Kurt Suzuki’s role with his new team was one-dimensional. Manage the Nats’ young and talented pitching staff, and any offense that came with it would be considered a nice bonus.
After being traded to the Nats on Aug. 3, Suzuki batted just .180 (9-for-50) in his first 13 games. His work with the pitchers was fine, but eventually the Nats were going to want more offensive production from the bottom of their order.
“My job is to get the pitchers through the game and give us a chance to win,” Suzuki said. “Whatever I do offensively, I’m happy with, but when you contribute to both sides of the ball on the field, it definitely makes for a good game.”
Now, though, Suzuki has found his stroke at the plate and carries a six-game hitting streak into Monday’s series-opener with the Cubs. The 28-year-old backstop played a critical role in Sunday’s 4-3 series-clinching win over the Cardinals, going 2-for-3 with a solo home run in the fourth and an RBI-single in the sixth.
“Suzuki’s been good, he’s been swinging the bat better,” manager Davey Johnson said. “Today, he was outstanding. For some reason, I think he’s had pretty good success against [Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook]. He was 3-for-6 with a home run, and you could tell from that first at-bat with runners in scoring position. The ball hit him in both legs — he didn’t argue, he wanted to stay there and hit.”
Johnson has repeatedly credited Suzuki’s work with hitting coach Rick Eckstein this week, and did so again on Sunday.
“Well I thought when he first got here, he actually had a little bigger swing,” Johnson said. “He was kind of swinging up on the ball, a little longer swing. Eckstein’s done a good job.
“We had him in Cuba in the Olympic qualifier [in 2006] and he swung the bat really good there. We liked him a whole lot. I had both him [Red Sox catcher] Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and I liked Suzuki. He caught the last game over Saltalamacchia. So I liked him at an early age. He had a nice, short, quick stroke then, but when he came over, he was a little long. He’s getting back to it.”
With his quicker swing, Suzuki has went 8-for-19 (.421) with two home runs and five RBI over the course of the six-game hitting streak.
In addition, the adjustments have also made for a helpful approach that has helped Suzuki feel more free at the plate.
“That’s what we’ve really been doing, just take the effort out of the swing and just kind of be nice and easy, free and easy,” he said. “The less tension you have, you’re going to definitely be a lot quicker.”