It came down to the wire, but Ichiro Suzuki will be in the starting lineup and his name will burst through the loudspeakers when the Seattle Mariners open their season against the Indians at 7:10 p.m. Thursday at Safeco Field.
Mariners manager Scott Servais liked what they saw from his workout at Safeco Field on Wednesday and decided to go with Ichiro on their 25-man roster while optioning utility player Taylor Motter to Triple-A Tacoma.
This is despite Ichiro going 0-for-10 with five strikeouts during his limited time in spring training while nursing a sore calf.
“It was a crazy spring for him,” Servais said. “Getting in here late and having the set-back with the calf injury. But he’s shown us enough the past couple of days where he can get out there and run around and help us out a little bit.”
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The last time Ichiro was in the Mariners’ Opening Day lineup was in 2012, and the last time he opened a season in Seattle was 2009 against the Angels – when he went 2-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs.
But he won’t be at the top of the order anymore. And he will be playing left field instead of right.
“When we brought him in, we brought him to hit at the bottom of the lineup and he can help us in a number of different ways,” Servais said. “But obviously he’ll be in the lineup (Thursday) night.”
The 44-year-old future Hall of Famer hit .255 with a .318 on-base percentage in 136 games with the Marlins last year, after hitting .291 the season before that.
“Until yesterday I was just cautious,” Ichiro said through interpreter Allen Turner. “I could have gone 100 percent, I think, but I was trying to be careful and make sure I didn’t do anything that would affect anything. But I do feel like I’m ready.”
He said that while organizing his arsenal of black bats at his locker, each with Ichiro’s name inscribed on the barrel. It’s the same locker he had for 12 seasons here from 2001-2012, before being traded to the New York Yankees.
Ichiro said this experience most hit him while driving to the stadium from his home earlier Wednesday morning.
“Being out there on the field is one thing, but just driving from my house to the stadium – just the views that I remember,” Ichiro said. “It’s just an awesome thing that I’m here. I’m just so happy.”
Ichiro’s role certainly won’t be that of his first go-around here when he was the American League MVP and rookie of the year in 2001 when the Mariners won 116 games. He knows that, and that things could get complicated in the outfield when Ben Gamel returns from his oblique strain, which has him starting the season on the disabled list (though he took part in some batting practice on Wednesday and is ahead of schedule in his recovery).
But Ichiro said he’s also a different person since the last time he set up his locker here.
“I’ve always been strict on myself, and that’s still the same case today,” Ichiro said. “But I think back then in my early years I was also strict with how I look at players, maybe teammates, and how I wanted them to do it this way or that way.
“But I think now some of the guys are – they could be my kids’ ages. I look at them and I don’t really let anything bother me. I look at it and I just kind of enjoy it now actually to see the difference in how they do things. I guess those are some of the things that have changed along the way.”
His locker sits next to 27-year-old outfielder Guillermo Heredia’s.
“Yeah I mean, he will help a lot because he’s a very, very good player,” said Heredia, with Mariners bullpen catcher Fleming Baez translating. “And we get along really well, even though neither of us speak good English.”
The Mariners made official their 25-man roster.
They selected right-hander Casey Lawrence from Triple-A Tacoma and re-assigned right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma to minor league camp.
David Phelps, the right-handed set-up man who will miss the rest of the season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, was officially placed on the disabled list, retroactive to March 26. So was right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (lat strain) and outfielder Ben Gamel (oblique strain).
That leaves the Mariners with four starting pitchers – Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales. The team won’t need a fifth starter until April 11 because of three off days in the first eight days of the season. If needed, left-hander Wade LeBlanc could make a spot start.
The Mariners begin the 2018 season with Felix Hernandez making an Opening Day start for the 10th consecutive year – which only six other pitchers in MLB history have done before. It’s his 11th Opening Day start of his career, tied for the most among active pitchers with C.C. Sabathia. He is 6-2 with a 1.64 ERA with 74 strikeouts on Opening Day.
The Indians will start Corey Kluber, who won 18 games last season and his second Cy Young award in the past four years. Game is 7:10 p.m.
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