Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Carp slugger Seiya Suzuki’s evolution continues after strong Series

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Star slugger Seiya Suzuki came out to the Mazda Stadium parking lot earlier than other Hiroshima Carp players after Game 6 of the Japan Series wrapped up on Saturday night.

There he was quickly surrounded by reporters who wanted to hear what the team’s cleanup hitter had to say about the loss to the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

The 24-year-old was surely frustrated after his Carp, the three-time reigning Central League champions, again failed to end their 34-year drought for the Japan Series title.

But he was relaxed in talking to the press, saying the series was “a complete loss” to the Hawks, who concluded the best-of-seven contest by winning four games in a row.

Many argue that results in the Japan Series do not define which team is genuinely better, as the playoffs are often won by the team better at riding its momentum. Admitting his squad was walloped by the Pacific League club, Suzuki stressed that he and his team had “a great season” in 2018.

“I think I performed to my full ability,” the right-fielder said of his own record in the Japan Series.

Suzuki insisted that it was a shame they could not play with Takahiro Arai, who had announced his retirement during the season, for one more game. But he added that he “had fun” competing in the series and “had a sense of fulfillment.”

Suzuki was hot at the plate and carried out his mission as the cleanup hitter for Hiroshima. He hit .455 with three homers and six RBIs in the series, receiving the Fighting Spirit Award for his performance.

“He’s hitting too well, isn’t he?” joked Hawks teammate Seiichi Uchikawa during the series. The veteran and future Hall of Famer has served as a “master” for Suzuki in their private off-season workouts over the last few years.

At the 2016 Japan Series, in which the Carp eventually fell to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in six, Suzuki went 4-for-18 (.222) with two RBIs and six strikeouts.

Suzuki did not compare with himself of the 2016 version, saying: “sometimes luck plays a role in your results (in the Japan Series), so I can’t say if I’ve gotten better.”

But looking at his overall NPB career, Suzuki has certainly grown into a better and more consistent all-around hitter. He said that he has been able to stand at the plate with less hesitation and the approach paid off in the Japan Series.

“I think I was able to do what I did during the season,” said the Tokyo native, who posted a .320 average, 30 homers and 94 RBIs (all ranked in the top 10 in the CL) in 2018. “I was able to take my swings without hesitation, and that led to good results.”

Despite the series loss, Suzuki held his head high. He is not necessarily satisfied with his own performance this year and believes he can improve even more as a hitter going forward.

“Looking back at the season, I was still rough,” he said. “I want to be a surer hitter, and I’m going to focus on that.”