By Ashley Dunkak
*Editor’s Note: The interview with Eugenio Suarez was conducted in Spanish.
CBS DETROIT – Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus reached into the upper echelons of his Dartmouth-informed vocabulary this week to describe how 22-year-old shortstop Eugenio Suarez has handled his transition to the big leagues.
“He’s handled it with – ” Ausmus paused, searching for the perfect word – “aplomb. Can I use that word there, aplomb?”
Indeed, since aplomb is defined as self-assurance or confidence, particularly in a demanding situation, the term matched the scenario exactly.
“He fits right in,” Ausmus said. “He’s still young in experience, but he doesn’t carry himself as if he’s intimidated by the situation he’s been plopped down into, which is a tough situation. You’re on a team that’s expected to contend, do better than contend, really, and you’re a rookie … It’s not an easy task.”
Suarez endured a humbling moment recently when he took a tumble between third base and home plate while trying to score, and he has recorded a few errors, but for the most part, the young infielder has been a pleasant surprise.
Suarez turned heads earlier this week when he made a heads-up play by picking Yasiel Puig off third base, saving the Tigers a run. With a batting average of .283 after 30 games with the Tigers, Suarez has looked good at the plate as well as in the field.
“He’s done very well for us,” Ausmus said. “He’s been consistent and solid both offensively and defensively.
“What we’re seeing from him right now is sometimes he looks like he’s trying to hit a home run, but when he backs off and he just tries to hit line drives, he’s a much more consistent hitter,” Ausmus added. “Last few days he’s done a nice job of backing off, but when he’s gone through – and they haven’t been long – but when he’s gone through a couple-game funk, he usually tends to get a little big with his swing, and when he stays short, he’s been much more consistent.”
Suarez hit well again Thursday, going 2 for 4 against the Kansas City Royals with a pair of doubles and two runs batted in.
Several factors have helped Suarez prepare for the major leagues and settle in upon arrival. First and foremost, he has been playing professionally since his teenage years. Suarez signed with Detroit in 2008, so while he is only 22, he is in his sixth year with the Tigers organization.
Suarez has been going to the ball park since he was 5 years old and forever envisioned that the game would eventually be his job.
“Yes, always yes,” he said. “I always enjoyed the game.”
Growing up in Venezuela, Suarez looked up to 11-time Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel, one of the best shortstops ever and also a Venezuelan. Suarez met Vizquel for the first time playing winter ball in Caracas, and with Vizquel now the first-base coach for the Tigers, Suarez works with his idol on a daily basis.
“A dream,” Suarez said. “A dream made real.”
Suarez played in the Venezuelan Summer League when he was 17 and 18, and when he came to the United States, the transition was tough. As one would expect, there are cultural differences, but the language barrier was the biggest obstacle.
Suarez did not speak much English, so it was hard to communicate with teammates. He worked to learn the language from an English teacher while in the minors, though, and besides practicing the language with his teammates now, he enjoys listening to music in English, which also helps a little bit.
Though Suarez is far from home, the Tigers clubhouse has a considerable contingent of Venezuelans – Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Anibal Sanchez among them – and Suarez said having teammates from his country has been a huge positive.
“They’re always looking after me because I’m younger,” Suarez said. “They’re always looking after me – Miguel, Anibal, Victor, Omar. They’re always looking after me.”
When expected Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias went down with stress fractures in his shins during spring training, it seemed a reasonable assumption that whomever Detroit added at that position would be a temporary fix given how well Iglesias played in 2013.
If Suarez continues along his current trajectory, however, Ausmus could have a difficult decision to make next season regarding the shortstop spot. He could have two solid candidates for the job rather than one.
“Potentially, yeah,” Ausmus admitted, then smiled. “It’s a good problem to have.”