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Carp star Suzuki working on ‘godlike’ encore

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Hiroshima Carp outfielder Seiya Suzuki was “godlike” last season. At least that was the word.

“Kamitteru,” or godlike, topped the list of buzzwords in Japan last year, winning the 2016 U-Can Shingo Ryukogo Taisho (2016 U-Can New Words and Buzzwords Awards). The phrase, which has been in the teenage vernacular for years, was attached to Suzuki when manager Koichi Ogata used it after the outfielder hit sayonara home runs against the Orix Buffaloes on consecutive days in June of last year. Suzuki even attended the buzzwords awards ceremony in December.

Suzuki, 22, might have only been described as godlike for those two days in June, but for Carp fans, he was pretty close to it the rest of the year as well. He made the All-Star team and emerged as one of the main pieces in Japan’s top offense and as one of NPB’s top players.

So it’s only natural fans were hungry to see what he had in store for 2017.

“I feel like the expectations around me are a little different than last year,” Suzuki told The Japan Times. “But I’m not thinking about that too much, and I just really want to do the best I can.”

Suzuki has gotten off to a good start this season. He’s hitting .326 with 17 doubles and nine home runs for the first-place Carp. He’s tied with the Yokohama BayStars’ Jose Lopez for the most RBIs in the Central League with 39 and has a .965 on-base plus slugging percentage that is second only to his Carp teammate Brad Eldred’s 1.027.

Suzuki has also drawn 23 walks and stolen five bases so far this year and says his batting still has room to get better.

“It’s a long season, and there is still a long way to go,” Suzuki said. “I’m not 100 percent where I normally am yet, but I’m getting there.”

That could be a bad sign for Pacific League pitchers, who will have to deal with Suzuki when interleague play begins Tuesday.

Suzuki showed just how much of a threat he could be last season. He finished the year with a .335 average, 29 home runs, 95 RBIs, and a 1.015 OPS, as he helped the Carp win their first Central League pennant since 1991. His play caught the eye of national team manager Hiroki Kokubo, who added Suzuki to the Samurai Japan roster for this spring’s World Baseball Classic.

Suzuki came into his own as a complete player last season, displaying power and speed at the plate, not to mention a strong arm in right field. The way he’s started the season suggests he’s well on his way to another strong performance this year.

“He’s consistent,” said Carp pitcher Jay Jackson. “I think the more he plays and the longer he stays at this level, he’s going to refine his swing and get more confidence and get more consistent. He’s going to be really special. Honestly, he’s going to be a scary force in this league.

“He’s already a scary force, but even more so when he gets older and learns the strike zone a little bit better and learns what guys are trying to throw him and how they’re trying to attack him. Then he can adjust his approach a little bit more. The tools he has are unbelievable.”

Suzuki collected a pair of doubles and drew a walk in his most recent game, the Carp’s 3-2 win over the Yomiuri Giants in extra innings on Sunday. One of his doubles came before a two-run home run by Eldred that knotted the score at 2-2 in the seventh.

“He’s doing his job and getting out there,” Eldred said. “He’s getting in scoring position almost every time. He’s definitely doing a good job.”

Suzuki hit fifth in the Hiroshima lineup early in the season but has held down the cleanup role since April 25. He’s batting in the middle of a lineup that leads Japan with 256 runs scored and says he just wants to stay within himself and produce.

“I want to find my best form this year,” Suzuki said. “I think I can put up good results, If I’m able to do that consistently.”