Ichiro faces Kluber in tonight’s opener
The lingering question of whether Ichiro Suzuki would be ready for opening day was solved on Wednesday.
Yes, he’ll be on the Seattle Mariners 25-man roster, despite a lingering calf injury. And, yes, he’ll be in left field tonight when the Mariners open the season hosting the Cleveland Indians.
“It was a crazy spring for him getting in late and having a little setback with the calf injury but I think he showed us enough here the last couple of days that he can get out there, run around and help us out a little bit,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “As I said when we brought him in he’ll hit at the bottom of the lineup, he’ll help in a number of different ways. But obviously he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow night.”
This isn’t turn back the clock night, although the nostalgia will be thick — let alone the challenge of facing Cleveland ace Corey Kluber and one of the powerhouse clubs in the American League.
It’ll be Suzuki’s first regular season game in a Seattle uniform since July 22, 2012. He made his mark as a right fielder with Seattle, though that spot now will be manned by Mitch Haniger.
And there’s a very real chance this is a temporary assignment. Suzuki must perform better than he did in his limited spring training opportunities to justify receiving playing time ahead of Guillermo Heredia or Ben Gamel when Gamel returns from his oblique injury.
At least for the opener, it’ll be Suzuki’s stage in left field.
“Obviously being out there on the field is one thing, but just driving from my house to the stadium, just the views that I remember,” Suzuki said through an interpreter. “Just an awesome thing that I’m here. I’m just so happy.”
It’s hard to know what to expect from the 44-year-old, who was hitless in the five spring training games he played in, not counting side field games against minor leaguers. A year ago, Suzuki hit .255 in limited at-bats for Miami.
When he was signed by Seattle this month, he seemed set for a roster spot. But the calf injury made the disabled list a potential destination right up until the final day of spring training. Seattle optioned Taylor Motter to Triple-A Tacoma to clear the roster spot for Suzuki.
“When I got hurt, the whole plan was just to be ready for opening day. I feel that I barely snuck in here,” Suzuki said through an interpreter. “It was a close one but I’m glad I was able to get to this point and be ready.”
The nostalgia isn’t limited to Suzuki. Felix Hernandez will be starting his 10th straight Opening Day for Seattle.
Hernandez and Kluber will always be tied together by the 2014 Cy Young voting where the Cleveland righty edged Hernandez in the balloting.
While Kluber added his second Cy Young Award last year and is a top contender for the honor again in 2018, Hernandez is trying to evolve into a pitcher that can still be at the top of his game even as he ages and can’t blow away hitters the way he did earlier in his career.
But even Hernandez’s spring was altered by injury after taking a liner off his arm. Hernandez is not expected to go much beyond 80 pitches in the opener.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona said Jose Ramirez should be able to play without issue after suffering a laceration on his left middle finger in the spring training finale. Ramirez suffered the cut on a piece of metal on the bat rack. ... Servais said Gamel is ahead of schedule on his recover and will likely join Triple-A Tacoma next week. ... Other Seattle roster moves: selected RHP Casey Lawrence; placed Gamel, David Phelps (Tommy John) and Erasmo Ramirez (lat strain) on 10-day DL; re-assigned RHP Hisashi Iwakuma to minor-league camp.