Kurt Suzuki was ejected for the first time in his career on Sunday. It was a ninth-inning called third strike that sent the Nationals’ catcher over the edge. He made his feelings perfectly clear to home plate umpire John Tumpane, and he was tossed.
It was a rarity. Suzuki, one of the Nationals’ most well-liked teammates, is hardly ever in a bad mood, let alone angry enough to get himself ejected from a game. In spring training, I even wrote a story about just how positive his demeanor seems to be on a daily basis.
“It started with the 0-1 pitch,” Suzuki explained. “I felt that pitch was off and I didn’t say much, just a little bit. But in a big part of the game, I’ve got my emotions running. I battled the count to get back to 2-2 and put myself in a pretty good hitting situation. And for something like that to happen, I felt it was a ball.
“You guys probably had a pretty good view on replay. You guys probably know better than me.”
As a catcher, (in the opinion of this writer, anyway) Suzuki would be crazy to publicly question the umpires. It could not only affect the calls he gets as a batter, but the ones he gets for his pitchers. So he very tactfully bit his tongue when asked about the strike zone.
“It’s tough for me to comment on stuff like that,” he said. “I can’t hit for everybody else and see what was going on. It was pretty good when I was hitting. Obviously people have their own opinions, but that’s one of those things where you can’t really argue much about that. I did what I did.”
But it brings up the topic of the strike zone on Sunday which was, in a word, wide.
According to Pitch F/X data, and by my count, there were 16 pitches that were outside of the strike zone that were called strikes by Tumpane. Ten of those came to right-handed batters, including the one to Suzuki and an even more egregious called third strike on Ian Desmond in the third inning. Six of them came to left-handed batters.
Tumpane’s zone was wide all day, and for both teams. But what most players will say when they are questioned about the strike zone is that if it’s consistent, and the same one is called for both teams, there’s not much else to discuss. Tumpane, a minor league call-up umpire who is filling in on this crew for the absent Dana DeMuth — their usual crew chief, appeared to distribute his inaccurate calls equally amongst the Nationals and the Cubs,
But there were pitches closer to —but still outside of — the zone that he called balls as well. And that, it stands to reason, could be frustrating for the hitters.
Manager Davey Johnson, however, said hitters still need to try to make it work.
“You have to make adjustments, that’s all I can say,” Johnson said. “We have the luxury of looking at videos and everything. Guys know that it’s a pretty good (size) strike zone. But you know that. So you’ve got to be aggressive. Swing the bat. Put it in play.”