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09/24/08 3:00 PM ET
Suzuki maturing as A's backstop
Young catcher still older than many of pitchers he's handling
By Shawn Shroyer / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- For the first time all season, Kurt Suzuki was out of the starting lineup for the Athletics in consecutive games Wednesday. Suzuki suffered a deep bruise to his right hip in a collision at home plate in the second inning of Monday night's game. Although he was able to finish the game, manager Bob Geren has held him out of the lineup the last two days. "Kurt's improved today, but he's not going to start," Geren said. "Hopefully he can Friday. He's definitely shown improvement." Looking back on the play, Suzuki had a gut feeling as to what was in store for him as 6-foot-4, 235-pound Chris Davis was barreling down on him. "I knew I was going to get crushed," Suzuki said. "I just kind of accepted that. I could have done a better job of getting in better position. There was some anxiety." While the collision has cost Suzuki a couple of games as the season comes to a close, he's used the incident as a learning experience. In fact, Suzuki has taken every game in his first full season as an opportunity to learn. The results have shown, as Suzuki has solidified himself as a cornerstone of the A's infield, developed into one of the steadiest bats in the lineup and gained the confidence to become a more vocal leader. "Besides right now, I thought it was a good learning experience. There were a lot of ups and downs," Suzuki said in summarizing his season before turning his attention to the team. "It hasn't had the outcome I would have imagined. But with such a young team, it's about learning, and I thought we did that. The big picture isn't wins and loses, it's about improving." Suzuki's ability to look at the big picture is just one of many examples of his maturity. Just over a week away from his 25th birthday, he's still older than many of the pitchers he's handled -- a fact reflected in the 55 starts the A's have gotten from rookie pitchers this season. Learning to receive Major League pitching can be challenging enough, let alone doing so with a young and evolving pitching staff. "It's a big adjustment," Suzuki said. "In a perfect world, you'd only have to handle five starters and seven relievers the whole season, but things happen, things change. I didn't think it was a bad thing. It was a good experience, and I was able to relate to them easier because they're going through what I went through last season." Last season, some of his lumps came at the plate, when he hit just .249 with a .327 on-base percentage in 68 games. In 145 games this season, he's upped his average to .279 and his on-base percentage to .347, leading the A's in hits. As things have come around for Suzuki at the plate, he's continued to advance behind it -- particularly from a leadership standpoint. Although Bobby Crosby and Mark Ellis usually form an experienced keystone combination for the A's, Suzuki has tried to become a more vocal presence around the diamond. Then again, other times Suzuki simply leads by example, as he did Monday night by playing through the pain in his hip and staying in a game without playoff implications. "It's a little tougher just because I'm in my first full season," Suzuki said. "I feel like I've grown. There are times I feel a little uncomfortable saying something because I am so young, but with time I'll get more comfortable with that. It comes with time."
Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.