BC-BBA--Hitless Ichiro,2nd Ld-Writethru
TOKYO (AP) — Ichiro Suzuki’s struggles at the plate have followed him to Japan.
Ichiro went hitless in three at-bats on Sunday when his Seattle Mariners beat the Yomiuri Giants 6-4 in an exhibition game ahead of their MLB season-opening series against the Oakland A’s.
Ichiro arrived in Japan hitting just .080 in spring training this season and couldn’t break out with a hit before a near-sellout crowd of 46,315 at Tokyo Dome.
Even before the game started, Ichiro gave the crowd a thrill, signing autographs down the third-base line before a throng of fans eager to get a glimpse of the 45-year-old star who is playing here for the first time since 2012.
He made a fine running catch up against the wall in deep right field in the first inning, flashing signs of the defensive prowess he has displayed throughout his career.
Cameras flashes lit up the stands when he strode to the plate for his first at-bat in the second but he hit a fly ball to left-center field.
He grounded into a force out in the fourth and grounded out again in the sixth before being replaced in right field by Braden Bishop.
The Mariners can accommodate Ichiro now with a special 28-man roster for the Japan visit, but it will revert to 25 when the season resumes in the United States a week later.
After that, Ichiro’s future is uncertain. He stepped aside early last season, temporarily retiring to become a Mariners special assistant.
Seattle manager Scott Servais played down the notion that Ichiro is under pressure here to get hits.
“I don’t think Ichiro is under any pressure,” Servais said. “He’s certainly earned the right to partake in this series. He’s off to a slow start this spring, but I thought his timing was better today, he just missed a ball he pulled down the line that was foul so I thought his swings were fine. He made a nice catch in the outfield to start off the game so he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow.”
Yomiuri starter Nobutaka Imamura, who retired Ichiro in his first two at-bats, said he was determined to do his best against the veteran outfielder.
“I just threw him fastballs,” Imamura said. “I approached it with the attitude of challenging a superstar.”
Jay Bruce hit a two-run homer in the top of the seventh to give the Mariners a 5-3 lead and they added another run in the eighth on a Dee Gorden solo homer.
The A’s were to play an exhibition game against the Nippon Ham Fighters later Sunday.
The Mariners and A’s play two more exhibition games against the same teams on Monday and have a practice day on Tuesday before they open the 2019 MLB season with games on Wednesday and Thursday.