Stepping in against Mariners reliever Nick Vincent, who threw about 25 pitches in a simulated game, Ichiro lashed two solid hits in his three appearances. Said Ichiro: “I think I’ve done everything I could possible do to get ready to actually play in a game.”
PEORIA, Ariz. — Ichiro faced live pitching Friday for the first time since returning to the Mariners and immediately showed there still could be some life in his bat.
Stepping in against reliever Nick Vincent, who threw about 25 pitches in a simulated game, Ichiro lashed two solid hits in his three appearances, alternating at-bats with Mitch Haniger. Ichiro’s other at-bat might also have been a hit, though with no fielders it’s a judgment call.
Earlier in the day, Mariners manager Scott Servais said Haniger, bothered this spring by a hand injury, and Ichiro could be in a Cactus League game “in the next day or two. I don’t want to put a timetable on it. We need to see Ichi run around the bases a little bit. I don’t want to just fire him into a game and have a setback there. We have to be smart.”
But Servais admitted it has been “pretty cool” to have Ichiro on the field with the ballclub. He met in his office Friday with Ichiro and his interpreter, Allen Turner, to discuss the team’s expectations for Ichiro and get feedback from him. The manager said it was a productive meeting.
“It’s really important we get on the same page,’’ he said. “I think expectation wise, just help our team win. Simple. Anything you can do. It doesn’t always have to be getting three hits every night. It can be helping someone else on the team, picking something off a pitcher, stolen base, defensive positioning.
“This guy has been a fantastic player. He knows how to play. We have to use him as a resource, and it’s not just to go out and hit .350. We’d take it, but it’s more to it than that. We’re not expecting it. Just come in, be part of the team, and help us win. Simple.”
Speaking after his hitting session, Ichiro said that it was good to take cuts off Vincent.
“That’s all you can do before actually seeing live pitching in games, so it was definitely something I was glad I was able to do,’’ he said through Turner.
Asked what he needs to still do before debuting in Arizona, Ichiro said, “I think I’ve done everything I could possibly do to get ready to actually play in a game. Then you go and play games and go from there. There’s only so much you can get from practice, and after that it’s actual games, and you get ready in the games.”
Ichiro said he is thoroughly enjoying being back in Peoria for the first spring since 2012.
“The facility has changed and some things have changed, but it really feels good,’’ he said. “It’s home. I think you feel at peace because you see faces you’re familiar with. You guys (media), too. People you’re used to, even the views of the field. Wherever I go to look, it feels just at peace. It feels good.”
DeJong, four others sent down
The Mariners trimmed five players on Friday. Pitcher Chase DeJong was optioned to Class AAA Tacoma, and pitchers Ljay Newsome and Ryan Garton, infielder Rey Navarro and catcher Joe DeCarlo were reassigned to minor-league camp. That leaves them with 56 in major-league camp.
Of that group, De Jong is likeliest to see time in Seattle this year. He made four starts last season.
“I talked to him in the meeting,’’ Servais said. “Some guys it comes very quickly, for others it’s a step-by-step process. That’s where Chase is. He’s much more physical, you can tell just looking at him. He took his offseason very seriously. He’s probably put on 15 good pounds. Stuff-wise, he continues to get better and he’s added some things in his delivery to kind of disrupt the timing a little. He watched Cueto last night because he’s kind of the master of it. Some of our young guys are looking at the value that can bring to their game, and Chase is one of those guys that can benefit from that.”
Others who might emulate Cueto’s hesitations and quick pitches, Servais said, are Dan Altavilla and Casey Lawrence.
The Mariners believe starting pitcher Felix Hernandez (arm contusion), who has been playing catch with increasing distance and effort, is closing in on a bullpen appearance, the next step before returning to game action. Servais said he’d like Hernandez to get in “two or three” spring-training games before pitching him in a regular-season game.
Dr. Edward Khalfayan was in camp Friday and was scheduled to examine starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez (lat strain). The hope is that Ramirez will be cleared to play catch on Saturday.
“If you look at where we need a fifth starter, and what point in the season, I still give him an outside chance to be able to get to that spot,’’ Servais said. “We’re still four or five weeks away from that point. But he’s got to build it up and go from there. He’s come along quicker and is in a better spot than I thought he’d be at this point.”