How beat up is Kurt SuzukI? “Right now ... he’s a hot mess right now,” Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez admitted after last night’s game.
Suzuki, like most catchers, takes his share of hits, but the 36-year-old backstop has hurt his hand, fouled a ball off his foot, and he’s taken numerous fouls off his legs over the last week-plus.
Last night he went down for a few minutes after a foul ball caught his right knee/shin. It was bad enough to draw trainer Paul Lessard out to home plate, but the veteran shook it off and stayed in the game, and singled and scored an inning later, connecting for one of three hits on the night.
“He’s a tough kid, he really is,” Martinez added.
“He goes in the training room and has ice everywhere. But he loves to play the game, and he loves to be out there. It takes a lot for him to come out of the game. He won’t come out. He’s one of those guys, I love him, he just wants to play and help us win.”
“Zuk is a tough dude. All catchers are,” Max Scherzer said, after tossing seven scoreless to Suzuki in the Nationals’ 6-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
“All the catchers I’ve thrown to are really tough dudes. Zuk has been taking some licks as of late. He’s been banged up, but he still competes, he goes out there, he doesn’t care.”
“He wants to be in the game just as bad as anybody even if he’s hurt. He’d rather just sit there and grind through it. That’s what I love about him. That’s what I love about all the catchers I’ve gotten to throw to.
“Their determination and grit to be in there no matter what. And Zuk is the epitome of that. I know he’s hurting, but to see him back there grinding through it, just makes you want to go out there and grind just as much.
“That’s the effort that it takes to play at the big league level.”
Suzuki has been doing it for 1,502 games in his 14 major league seasons. He’s used to it at this point, though he said it is different now too.
“It’s just part of the territory. I feel like as I’ve gotten older it’s gotten worse. Or maybe it just hurts worse as I’ve gotten older.
“But it’s part of the territory. As long as I can get out there and help the team win that’s what I try to do.”
With the Nationals, as a group, a bit banged up as well, and Juan Soto and Luis García both out of the lineup last night, Martinez put Suzuki in the cleanup spot for the 77th time in the catcher’s career (he does now have a .282/.345/.467 career line in that spot).
The manager said he wanted some veterans in the middle of the lineup, who would, “... move the baseball in certain situations,” and Suzuki, “... is always moving the baseball.”
Did Suzuki just accept the move to the middle of the lineup as what the team needed?
“No way,” he joked. “I told Davey, ‘You’ve finally got a cleanup hitter that can help the team win.’ That’s what I said. Honestly, it’s just a number in front of your name. Once the lineup rolls through the first time things get kind of jumbled up. Guys come up in cleanup spots, you hit around, but it’s that spot, but I don’t really try to change my mindset.”
Suzuki has hits in 15 of his last 16 games, over which he’s gone 19 for 58 (.328/.397/.466), with five doubles, a home run, and seven walks over that stretch.
“I try to put the ball in play, try to hit the ball hard somewhere and keep rallies going and do the same job. Nothing really changes [in the cleanup spot], besides I can just tell everybody I hit cleanup,” Suzuki said.
Has anything changed in terms of his maintenance of his body between games that allows him to keep taking the field when called upon.
“No, I do the same things,” Suzuki said.
“These type of things happen throughout the year, obviously you don’t have the luxury of taking many days off nowadays, because ... it is a condensed season.”
“Instead of having an off day you’re going to have to play. It doesn’t change anything much. I’ve always been a player where if I feel like I can help the team win and Davey wants to put me in the lineup then I’m going to play. If I feel like I’m going to be hurting the team, then I’ll tell him that I don’t feel like I can help the team win. Nothing really changes in that aspect, you still try to prepare yourself every day to play the game and if you can play and help the team win, go for it.”