Scott Servais told Ichiro he'd start throwing early batting practice to the Mariners 10 days ago. To prepare, Ichiro began throwing 200 practice pitches a day in the batting cages.
HOUSTON — About 10 days ago, manager Scott Servais approached Ichiro and told him that he would like him start throwing early batting practice.
And why not?
It’s not as if Ichiro didn’t have the time or capability in his new role as special assistant to the chairman. He already participates in all the pregame workouts and works out by himself during games since he’s not allowed to be in the dugout.
“I demanded it,” Servais joked. “No, I gave him a heads up about 10 days ago. I heard he threw really good BP (in the cage). So I’m like, ‘why not have a little fun with this?’ Little did I know that he’d be throwing 200 balls a day in the batting cage to get ready. So he was ready.”
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Ichiro made his debut as early batting practice pitcher on Tuesday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. With the Mariners having an off-day on Monday, there was early BP for a large portion of players. Ichiro threw to the first group, which consisted of Mike Zunino, Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia.
“I think I could have done better,” Ichiro said through interpreter Allen Turner. “It was the first time throwing off the ramp. I hadn’t done that before. And it was my first time throwing outside. It had all been inside, throwing in the cage. I think I can get better.”
It was also a different mindset for him.
“I used to be a pitcher before and I had my one inning with the Marlins,” he said. “And when you are a pitcher, you don’t want the guys to get hits off you. Today was the first day where I threw it and hoped they hit it.”
The hitters had no complaints.
“It was good,” Zunino said. “I’ve seen him throw too many baseballs in the cage this past week during games. This guy is a machine. He was good. He was able to move the ball around and as he threw more, he was able to get a feel for where guys wanted it. Heck, I will take anybody that throws BP to me.”
How did Servais grade Ichiro’s performance? Well, he used the 20-80 scouting scale to offer up his assessment.
“On the 20-80 scale, we have to leave a little room for improvement,” Servais said. “I will give him a 55. He can still get better. It’s the pace and little more velocity behind it. He wanted to get the board (ramp) way back and guys sometimes like it closer. He will make adjustments.”
Servais didn’t say when Ichiro would throw batting practice again, but Ichiro was amenable and available to it becoming a regular situation.
“If the guys liked hitting off me, I will throw every day,” he said.
*** As Servais was in mid-answer during his pregame meeting with the media in the visitors’ dugout of Minute Maid Park, there was a commotion and a brief yell about 30 feet away. Reliever Ryan Cook had caught his spikes on the dugout stairs and fell down the awkwardly.
Yes, it’s the same thing that happened to Nelson Cruz earlier this season.
Fortunately for the Mariners, Cook seemed to be OK. After grabbing at his lower back and limping off, he later appeared from the trainers room and told staff that he was fine. He was on the field pregame as well.
*** With his hot hitting over the last few weeks, Ben Gamel will see increased playing time. Gamel is hitting .385 (20 for 52) with a 1.006 on-base plus slugging percentage, four doubles, a triple, a homer in his last 16 games. With both Gamel and Denard Span hitting from the left side, they’ll also split duties vs. left-handed starters. Gamel got the start in left field on Tuesday night vs. lefty Dallas Keuchel.
“We’ll mix it up,” Servais said. “You’ll probably see more of a 50-50 split going forward. I think it will be good for both guys. You’ll also see us give a day to Heredia once in a while and you’ll see both left-handed hitters in the outfield.”