As Seattle Mariners legend Ichiro Suzuki said goodbye to professional baseball in his native Japan, an unknown rookie reliever was waiting to make his MLB debut.
Brandon Brennan, a Rule 5 Draft pick by the Mariners last winter, didn’t mind the short delay — he endured much longer holdups during the first seven years of his professional baseball career.
Brennan said he enjoyed the moment two weeks ago in Tokyo, as Ichiro made his eighth-inning exit in the Mariners’ series finale against the Oakland A’s.
“The inning I went in, I didn’t know Ichiro was going to come off,” Brennan said. “That made it a little more dramatic.
“But, it was super cool to be the guy who was going out for his debut when one of the best players in all of baseball history is coming off for his last inning.”
Brennan was one of the first to greet Ichiro as he jogged back to the dugout, and took the mound as Ichiro embraced coaches and teammates.
Minutes later, Brennan threw the first scoreless inning of his career, and forced an inning-ending double play to preserve a 4-4 tie in a game the Mariners went on to win.
“It adds a little more to it,” Brennan said. “And then you get a double play to end it, so it was pretty emotional and fun.”
And worth the wait.
Brennan has spent the past several seasons bouncing between Chicago White Sox minor-league affiliates after being drafted by the organization in the fourth round in 2012.
After seven seasons, he signed another minor-league contract with the Colorado Rockies as a free agent on Nov. 13.
Exactly a month later, Brennan was selected by the Mariners in the annual Rule 5 Draft — which was created to prevent MLB teams from hoarding prospects in the minors — giving him a favorable chance to make Seattle’s 25-man roster.
Brennan’s mom called him the day of the Rule 5 Draft, and asked if he was eligible. He told her he was, but didn’t expect to hear his name called.
“I’m a free agent signed, the odds are probably not,” Brennan said. “Not many guys even get picked in the Rule 5 as it is.”
He was one of 42 players selected — and the only player the Mariners picked.
“I was sitting there, watching my little nephew at the time, had my dog laying out on my lap, and my phone started just going insane,” Brennan said.
He called his agent to find out what was going on, and his agent told him to hang up and answer the next call.
It was the Mariners.
“I was super thrown off,” Brennan said. “I was super surprised. I was a free agent, so I signed over to the Rockies, and had every intention of going over there.”
Since Brennan was not on Colorado’s 40-man roster, Seattle swooped in. Mariners manager Scott Servais said analytics manager Joel Firman helped identify Brennan as an intriguing prospect.
“They’re looking for guys who maybe have certain characteristics within a pitch that sticks out,” Servais said. “And the thing that stuck out … is (Firman) really loved his change-up.
“He’s probably throwing a tick harder now than maybe we anticipated he would. But, we thought his change-up was the difference-maker. Swing and miss change-up is something unique.”
The Mariners took a shot, Servais said, and Brennan has delivered. He has appeared in four games, and hasn’t allowed a run in six innings of work, striking out five while giving up just four hits and one walk.
“I think he’s getting more confidence every time out there, and getting more comfortable,” Servais said. “He’s throwing the ball really well.
“He’s got good movement on his fastball, he’s throwing 94-95 mph with a really good change-up. He should have success, it’s just keep getting it over the plate. If he does that, he’s going to have a good year.”
Brennan welcomes the opportunity and consistency after some stops and starts earlier on.
He was drafted in the 40th round by the Rockies out of Capistrano Valley High School in California in 2010, but didn’t sign. Instead, he opted to play college ball at the University of Oregon, at the same time another Mariner, Ryon Healy, was there.
The fit wasn’t right and the stay was short.
“I loved the school, loved all of the guys who were there, loved Healy,” Brennan said. “The baseball and the coaching staff there was not for me. It was easier for me to just make a transition somewhere else, so I decided to go back home.”
Brennan said it was too late in the summer to try to join another Division I program, so he spent a year pitching at Orange Coast College, where he met another former Mariner in Boog Powell, who he later lived with.
“The group of OCC guys we had was great,” Brennan said. “Boog was one of the guys I was real close with. … When he found out I was coming (to Seattle), he was like, ‘You’re going to love it.’ ”
With the White Sox organization, Brennan pitched in 172 minor-league games, including starting 64 before he was converted to a full-time reliever, and compiled a 4.64 ERA in seven seasons.
“I had a talk with some of the front office guys over with the White Sox,” Brennan said. “For the most part, even when I was a starter over there, they saw me as a guy who was going to come up and go to the bullpen.
“And, I was going to be a long relief, kind of situational guy, who they could get ground balls for and eat up innings.”
That’s where he fits in with the Mariners, too.
“I love the fact that (we’re) able to use him multiple innings,” Servais said. “It’s going to be really important for him, really important for us bullpen-wise. It allows us to use other pieces down there in shorter stints.”
Brennan said the Mariners didn’t want to change him — just urged him to implement his change-up more, and he would probably find more success.
“It’s obviously a little bit different than the minor leagues,” Brennan said. “But, overall, I’ve got a really good group of veterans in the bullpen that help us out, too, so I’m kind of watching what they do, picking up here and there little hints.
“I feel like I’ve acclimated pretty good to all of the guys around here, and taken it out on the field, and so far done pretty good.”