ST. LOUIS - When the Nationals acquired Kurt Suzuki from the Athletics back in early August, they expected him to provide some veteran experience behind the plate, manage the pitching staff and use his strong arm to stop teams from running all over them on the basepaths.
In the minds of General Manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson, any offensive production they got from Suzuki on top of his defensive play was gravy.
The Nationals are getting plenty of gravy. Plates and plates worth of gravy.
Suzuki has done what the Nationals expected behind the plate, but he's been on fire in the batter's box, as well. Last night was just the latest example of that, as the 28-year-old smacked a tiebreaking two-run double in the 10th inning, giving the Nationals a 6-4 win over the Cardinals.
The big hit came after the Cardinals had intentionally walked Danny Espinosa to get to Suzuki, a move which backfired big time.
"You definitely want to be in those situations," Suzuki said. "I was excited that they walked Espinosa. That kind of lights a fire under you a little bit. Not that you don't go up there with a fire under you anyway, but especially in that situation, they want to pitch to you. So you want to go up there and make them pay."
Since coming over to the Nationals, Suzuki is hitting .271 with five home runs, 25 RBIs and a .732 OPS in 40 games. Compare that to what he put up while with the A's this season (.218 with one homer, 18 RBIs and a .536 OPS in 75 games) and Suzuki's numbers with the Nats look even more impressive.
Suzuki got off to a slow start after joining the Nats, but he's really benefited from lots of work put in with hitting coach Rick Eckstein in an effort to shorten Suzuki's swing. That work has paid dividends; over his last 26 games, Suzuki has really caught fire, batting .318 with five homers and 20 RBIs.
He's become a legitimate power presence out of the No. 8 spot in the Nationals' lineup, giving the batting order even more depth and punch. And in the process, he's proven to be one of the better acquisitions any contending team made around the trade deadline.
"He's gotten clutch hits," Ryan Zimmerman said. "I think we all knew he was a better hitter and his track record shows he was a better hitter than what he was doing this year (with Oakland). Obviously, defensively he's been unbelievable the way he's been with the pitchers, but he's got a lot of clutch hits since he's been here. I think just his experience, he's obviously been in the game for a long time. To have a good defensive catcher, it seems like they always know or have a sense of what the pitcher's going to do to them.
"He's been huge. That's kind of an under-the-radar acquisition compared to other teams and what they got, but he's been huge for us."