Fellow Japanese major leaguers welcomed Wednesday’s news that Ichiro Suzuki would be returning to the Seattle Mariners and Major League Baseball for at least one more season.
Ichiro admitted he needs to prove himself at the plate and in the outfield, and promised to bring his trademark devotion to the game and work ethic back to the Pacific Northwest, the same effort he has shown for his last 17 seasons in the majors.
While the 44-year-old baseball legend carefully picked his words at his re-introduction news conference in Peoria, Arizona, New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, Ichiro’s teammate briefly in 2014, made no attempt to hide his excitement.
“We’re both in the American League so I think there’s a chance we’ll face each other. He got two hits off me last time so I’ll do my best to hold him hitless next time,” Tanaka said.
Ichiro and Tanaka went head-to-head just once in June 2015, the same season Suzuki was dealt from the Yankees to the Miami Marlins.
Ichiro will reunite with Hisashi Iwakuma at Safeco Field after a six-year absence, giving his compatriot more reason to hurry back to the Mariners’ rotation as he continues to show progress in his rehab from shoulder surgery.
“I had no idea (about his return). I’m really excited about playing with him,” Iwakuma said.
While Ichiro’s challenge will be to last the season on the 25-man active roster, Los Angeles Angels rookie Shohei Ohtani says he also understands how intense the battle will be for a roster spot.
Belonging to the same AL West Division, the Mariners and the Angels are scheduled to play 19 regular-season games against each other in 2018.
When told Ichiro was looking forward to facing him, the 23-year-old Ohtani said he has a long way to go to reach the level of the 26-year pro. Further underlining the generation gap, Ichiro pointed out that the MLB newcomer is young enough to be his son.
“For that to happen I need to earn my place in a game. That’s an absolute must, and right now, I’m striving to grab that place,” Ohtani said.
Ohtani is limited to a minor league contract due to the MLB’s international hard cap, and it remains to be seen whether he will be able to squeeze into the Angels’ roster for the team’s first regular-season meeting with the Mariners on May 4.
Ichiro signed a one-year contract with a base salary of $750,000, a figure that pales in comparison to the $18 million per season he was paid by the Mariners between 2009 and 2011, according to baseball-reference.com.
Despite being at opposite ends of their careers, Ichiro and Ohtani will have to prove their worth, Ichiro sticking to his old routines and Ohtani finding new ones.
On Wednesday, Ichiro clarified that he intends to play until “at least 50,” not until 50 as had previously been thought.
“I want to become someone who is welcomed back by the fans, and I want them to mean it from their hearts when they say that. I will work hard every day,” Ichiro said.
“Getting an opportunity to play (for the Mariners) again, I’m having an emotion that is very different from the excitement I felt when it was decided I would be playing in the major leagues in 2001. I’m very happy.”
Guerrero Jr. has splash debut
In Sarasota, Florida, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had four singles in his spring training debut for the Toronto Blue Jays, a 9-3 win at the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday.
The 18-year-old third baseman, whose father Vladimir will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer, signed with Toronto in July 2015 for a $3.9 million bonus.
He was the designated hitter and had hits in the second inning off Nestor Cortes Jr., in the sixth and seventh against Tim Melville and in the ninth versus Asher Wojciechowski.
Guerrero also flied out in the fourth against Darren O’Day. He hit .323 with 13 homers and 76 RBIs at a pair of Class A teams last year with a .910 OPS.
“Good looking hitter,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He looks like he has fun playing.”
Royals re-sign Moustakas
Mike Moustakas is staying with the Kansas City Royals in a surprising turn dictated by a historically slow free agent market.
Kansas City agreed Thursday to a one-year contract that guarantees the third baseman $6.5 million, a person familiar with the negotiations told AP.
The deal could be worth up to $22.7 million over two seasons, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the agreement was subject to a successful physical.