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Chicago Cubs right fielder Seiya Suzuki placed on the 10-day injured list with oblique strain: ‘You don’t replace players like that’

PHOENIX — Less than three weeks into the season, the Chicago Cubs must overcome another injury blow to a key player.

The Cubs placed right fielder Seiya Suzuki on the 10-day injured list with a right oblique strain prior to Monday’s series opener in Arizona. Outfielder Alexander Canario has been recalled from Triple-A Iowa.

Suzuki underwent an MRI on Monday morning and the Cubs were waiting for a doctor to confirm the results before discussing a timeline for his return. Until then, manager Craig Counsell didn’t want to speculate how long Suzuki could be out.

“When you lose players like that, you don’t replace players like that,” Counsell said. “So, guys while he’s out hopefully kind of pick it up around him and collectively perform at a good level around him but you can’t replace players that are performing at that level with one person.”

Suzuki hurt his oblique while running down the first base line as he grounded out in the eighth inning Sunday in Seattle. He said he didn’t feel anything during that at-bat or before the discomfort popped up as he ran.

“It’s really unfortunate that I won’t be able to contribute to the team’s wins,” Suzuki said through interpreter Toy Matsushita. “But it’s something that already happened, you can’t make it not happen so it’s all about moving forward and moving past it and just try to make sure that I don’t get the same injury again in the future.”

Suzuki, 29, missed roughly six weeks in 2023 when he sustained a left oblique strain during spring training. This injury does not feel as serious as last year’s version, Suzuki said, though he noted he won’t know that for sure until receiving specifics on the injury from the doctor.

“I feel like last year, it was an injury that happens and you kind of expected it (ramping up in spring), but in terms of this year, during the offseason I did everything I can to make sure that I won’t get injured and make the same type of injury so I think it’s really important for myself to look over everything and try to see if there’s any problems with how I run or how I swing, how my body moves,” Suzuki said. “I think there’s some areas I need to improve.”

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Suzuki’s absence is a big loss after a strong start to the season. His 139 OPS+ ranks second among Cubs starters behind Michael Busch (188), displaying an aggressive yet balanced approach in the No. 2 spot of the order. Counsell slotted Dansby Swanson as the two-hitter Monday night against Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly but didn’t commit to a regular there.

“Our lineup construction can definitely be a little more fluid for sure without Seiya in there,” Counsell said.

Counsell doesn’t envision specific usage for Canario, stating his playing time with be determined day to day.

Suzuki is the fourth notable player currently on the IL for the Cubs, joining left-hander Justin Steele (left hamstring strain), reliever Julian Merryweather (rib stress fracture) and right-hander Jameson Taillon (back), though Taillon is expected to return to the rotation early in the upcoming homestand.

Suzuki’s quality of contact had impressed the Cubs before the injury.

“What he’s done is he’s starting to use that as a strength,” hitting coach Dustin Kelly said Sunday of Suzuki’s aggressiveness. “I think early on that would kind of hinder him a little bit, taking some of those pitches and now he realizes that this is a strength of his that when he gets balls in the zone that he puts the bat on it, he hits it really, really hard. So he’s using that more to his advantage and less about getting into some deeper counts.

“I mean, it’s not a surprise to us, but when he hits the ball, he just hits it so hard.”