MESA, Ariz. — Seiya Suzuki needed time to grasp the reality nearly four weeks ago that his left oblique strain would prevent him from playing in the World Baseball Classic.
It didn’t stop him from tuning in to the tournament and following Team Japan’s journey to Tuesday’s championship title with its 3-2 win over Team USA. His teammates hung Suzuki’s No. 51 jersey in their dugout and brought it onto the field during the title celebration and awards ceremony. The gesture didn’t go unnoticed by Suzuki.
“Even though I wasn’t on the team and I wasn’t able to do much for the team, how they did that for me holding up my uniform, not just in that situation but every game they had my uniform in the dugout, it meant a lot for me,” Suzuki said Wednesday through interpreter Toy Matsushita. “Just seeing everyone grind out there ... they were one of the motivators to keep on going and keeping my head up throughout the whole process.”
Suzuki, heading to the injured list to open the season, isn’t putting a timeline on when he might rejoin the Cubs. He advanced to taking batting practice in the cage Wednesday and was expected to “touch the pillows,” manager David Ross said, though not running at full speed.
Suzuki is positioned to stay in Arizona when Cubs break camp to get live at-bats in extended spring training and then work his way through a minor league progression. Cactus League at-bats appear unlikely before the spring schedule ends Tuesday. It’s not on Ross’ radar: “I don’t want to put anything off the table, I’m not the trainer or the doctor.”
“I don’t think anybody’s looking at him getting in spring training games from anything I’ve heard about his plan,” Ross said. “It is a unique injury, and you try to manage that as best you can, all positive from his standpoint, he feels good. ... We’re going to work him responsibly.”
Suzuki has been pleased with how he has been able to ramp up the intensity of his progression. In the process he has learned how to use his body more efficiently, most notably with his mobility. Big-leaguers typically get around 50 to 60 at-bats in spring training. He’s not sure if he will get that many between Arizona and his rehab assignment before he’s back with the Cubs.
“Obviously it’s better to have more at-bats in terms of preparation, but I’m going to do what’s best within a short amount of time to be ready,” Suzuki said. “Obviously I want to be out there as soon as possible, but that’s not just up to me. ... It’s just make the right decision and to be out there as soon as possible.”