Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki progressing smoothly, hitting home runs in batting practice

MESA, Ariz. – Right fielder Seiya Suzuki’s first home run in a batting practice session Saturday was a good sign. The second was a no-doubter, towering over the left-field fence of a practice field in the Cubs’ spring training complex. 

“It’s nice and loud out there,” manager David Ross said. “Coming off the bat well, home runs, I need to close my eyes.”

He didn’t want to get too excited. The Cubs don’t want to rush Suzuki’s rehab process. 

Suzuki will throw to bases, Ross said, and then play defense in some minor-league games soon. The Cubs want him to build up the endurance needed to play in the field, and they can ease him into taking at-bats in games further down the line. 

Suzuki has been steadily building up his workload both throwing and hitting, but he isn’t expected to take live at-bats until after the team leaves for Chicago early this coming week. 

Suzuki’s steady progress could change the Cubs’ Opening Day roster calculation. 

“Whether you are trying to put somebody on the roster that’s not on it, or trying to fill a gap for 10 days, is a big deal,” Ross said. “And it’s a big decision.We have so much talent and a lot of depth here. We would like to keep as much as we possibly can because of the long journey we’re about to start.”

Sampson optioned

The Cubs reassigned reliever Vinny Nittoli to minor-league camp and optioned right-hander Adrian Sampson to Triple-A Iowa, ending his bid for a Opening Day rotation spot. 

“The messaging for him was simple,” Ross said of Sampson. “He’s earned a lot of trust around here with his performance in the big leagues. Didn’t have the spring he wanted, the long ball got him a little bit. And just go down and get locked in to where he knows he needs to be.”

Sampson gave up 11 home runs this spring, more than he allowed in 21 major-league appearances last season. Ross named Hayden Wesneksi the Cubs’ fifth starter.

“As much as we try not to judge spring training stats, that competition was, Hayden pitched much better,” Ross said. “The great thing about Adrian is he’s a worker. And my message to him was, he’s going to help us this year for long periods of time.” 

Hughes takes ‘step in the right direction’

Lefty Brandon Hughes had positive feedback in a side session Saturday in Sloan Park. 

“From a pitch data perspective, it was good,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “From an eyes perspective, mechanically, I thought he’s taken a step in the right direction.” 

Hughes has been dealing with a left knee issue this spring. Back in 2015, he underwent surgery to repair his meniscus in the same knee, and he’d been able to manage the injury since then. But this spring, a flair-up started to affect his performance on the mound. 

“He’s feeling better, so that’s the most important thing,” Hottovy said. “We want to see how mechanically that is translating because it’s easy to form bad habits when you don’t feel good.”

The Cubs expected more complete biomechanical data back later on Saturday. 

“Some of the feedback I gave him was just getting back to what his strengths are,” Ross said, “and let me see that a little bit more.” 

Angels 8, Cubs 7

• Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner was scratched from the lineup Saturday, but manager David Ross said Hoerner “felt much better” and the team doctor had no concerns. Hoerner last appeared in a game Tuesday and is scheduled to play Sunday and Monday.

• Yan Gomes and Patrick Wisdom homered, and Christopher Morel went 3-for-4 with two doubles as the Cubs racked up seven runs in the first six innings.

• The Angles made a late comeback, rallying for three runs in the ninth inning against reliever Cayne Ueckert to win in walk-off fashion. 

• On deck: Royals at Cubs, 3:05 p.m. Sunday, Mesa, Marquee, Ryan Yarbrough vs. Justin Steele.

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