GLENDALE, Ariz. - Kurt Suzuki didn't hide or sugarcoat his feelings about last season.
“Not good enough,” he said quickly, shaking his head. “Not good enough at all.”
The 2010 season was a massive disappointment for the A’s catcher. Sure he signed a four-year, $16 million contract extension with the team that selected him in the fourth round of the 2004 draft out of Cal State Fullerton. But on the field, he struggled at the plate and behind it.
He was nothing like the player of the previous two seasons – the player who earned that multi-year extension.
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Coming off a solid 2009 season in which he hit .274 with 15 homers and 88 RBI, Suzuki was expected to be a serious offensive contributor on a team that needed him to be.
Instead, like most of his teammates, he struggled at the plate. Oakland couldn’t score runs, couldn’t hit home runs and couldn’t get runners on base.
The harder Suzuki tried to make an impact at the plate, the worse the results were. He finished last season with a career-worst .242 batting average with 13 homers, 77 RBI and a slugging percentage of .366.
He tried to do too much. He tried to be something he wasn’t.
“I’m not the guy that’s going to hit 30 homers and drive in 150 runs,” he said.
Just trying to be a guy who hits 20 homers and drives in 120 runs may have been detrimental to his approach.
“I have to go back to being me,” he said.
If the issues at the plate weren’t bad enough, Suzuki also had issues behind the plate. He allowed seven passed balls, committed eight errors and wasn’t particularly adept at throwing out runners.
Going into 2011, Suzuki is going to try to keep things simple.
“I’m going to go up there and battle my butt off and help any way I can, whether it’s offensively or defensively,” he said.
It’s that type of attitude that got him to the big leagues. But he isn’t satisfied with just being in the big leagues. He’s had success and he wants more of it.
“You have to earn everything at every level, but you really have to earn your merits at the big league level,” Suzuki said. “You have to put in your time and keep learning.”
What may help Suzuki most is the addition of players such as designated hitter Hideki Matsui and outfielders David DeJesus and Josh Willingham. Those three hitters will occupy the 3-4-5 spots in the batting order, allowing Suzuki to move down after having to hit either third or fourth in more than 100 games last season. Manager Bob Geren is looking at batting him sixth or seventh in the order.
“I think it’s great,” Suzuki said of the additions. “Those types of players help you win ballgames. They aren’t (Albert) Pujols or A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez), but they are guys that make you better and make guys around them better.”
It’s a description many of his teammates would use for Suzuki.
“Look at his work ethic, his attitude,” said third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. “He’s positive and happy. He wants to come to the yard every day and work. He brings intensity to the clubhouse and to the field. And that rubs off on people. I think he gets overlooked. I don’t think enough people know how good he is.”
Because of his position and his time with the franchise, Suzuki is considered a team leader. It’s a role he’s adjusting to.
“I’m still trying to get myself better and still trying to figure ways to improve at it,” he said. “I’m not a vocal kind of guy. I just go about my business and play hard and do things the right way.”
It’s an attitude that permeates the A’s clubhouse.
“If you have a lot of guys that do that, you will be in good shape,” he said.
How good of shape?
“I think we will surprise teams,” Suzuki said. “Our pitching staff deserves all the credit they are getting, but our offense is better than people think and we are going to surprise people.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org
2010 Record/Finish: 81-81, second place.
Manager: Bob Geren (fifth season).
Key additions: OF David DeJesus, DH Hideki Matsui, OF Josh Willingham, LHP Brian Fuentes, RHP Brandon McCarthy, RHP Rich Harden, RHP Grant Balfour.
Key losses: RHP Ben Sheets, OF Rajai Davis, DH Jack Cust, INF Eric Chavez, OF Gabe Gross, RHP Justin Duchscherer, RHP Vin Mazzaro.
Outlook: The A’s surprised a lot of people by finishing with a .500 record last year. How did they do it? Well, a large part of the credit goes to the talented young starting rotation led by Cahill and Anderson. They anchor a rotation that might be the best in the division in terms of depth. But the problem last season was offense, or specifically a lack of it. The A’s were anemic at the plate. They scored just 663 runs last season. It was the second-fewest runs in the franchise’s past 30 seasons. As a team, Oakland hit just 109 home runs last season and had a horrible .378 slugging percentage. To address that, GM Billy Beane went out and acquired DeJesus, Willingham and Matsui. While none of the three is a huge power threat any longer, the combination should make the offense respectable.
Player to watch: RHP Andrew Bailey. The young closer gave the A’s a scare when he had elbow problems in the spring. But a quick visit to Dr. James Andrews revealed the issue was scar tissue. Bailey should be fine, and the A’s need him to anchor the bullpen.
Will win the West if ... they can find any sort of offense to complement their talented young pitching staff.
Ryan Divish, staff writer
C Kurt Suzuki .2421371
2B Mark Ellis.291549
LHPBrett Anderson 7-62.80