Comfortable in pinstripes, Ichiro settles into camp
Veteran opens first spring with Yankees, will wait to find out spot in lineup
TAMPA, Fla. -- Monday marked the beginning of Ichiro Suzuki's first Spring Training with any team other than the Mariners, but he said it hasn't been a particularly difficult adjustment for him.
In fact, the 39-year-old right fielder was quick to joke that only one thing at the Yankees' first full-squad workout took him by surprise.
"Derek Jeter was not the eater that the media portrayed him to be," Ichiro said through an interpreter, poking fun of a New York Post photo of Jeter taken during the offseason. "It was good to see him that way."
Initially acquired in a trade with the Mariners last July, Ichiro said he spoke to "a few" other teams as a free agent this offseason. But when he heard New York wanted him back, he had no doubts about signing a two-year, $13 million contract and putting on the pinstripes again.
How close Ichiro was to signing elsewhere is another issue, one that he wasn't interested in discussing Monday afternoon.
"Right now, I'm wearing this Yankees uniform, so there's really no need to go there and talk about that," he said.
Ichiro spoke often last season about how much he enjoyed being a part of the Yankees' more experienced roster, and he had to be equally happy with his improvement on the field. After posting a .261/.288/.353 batting line with four homers in 95 games with Seattle, Ichiro batted .322/.340/.454 with five homers in 67 games with the Yankees.
Asked if he believes he can maintain that kind of production over a full season in New York, Ichiro responded, "Of course." And he'll get a chance to do so, as he should open the season alongside fellow left-handed hitters Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson in the Yankees' outfield. But neither he nor manager Joe Girardi had an answer regarding exactly where in New York's lineup he'll be attempting to replicate his second-half success.
Ichiro strongly implied Monday that he would prefer to remain at the top of the lineup, but added that he'd like to be thought of as a versatile player who can be used at any spot in any order. Girardi said he has "some ideas" for his lineup, but he's not set on any of them and hasn't spoken to his players about them.
"That's another piece that we're going to have to see exactly where it fits with the other guys and how we're going to do it," Girardi said. "There's question marks that have to be answered. We assume that Derek is going to be healthy, but what if he isn't? That could change the lineup and how we do it. So, you got to see where we are about March 25, March 26 before you really put this all together."
A .322 hitter with 452 stolen bases in his 12-year career, Ichiro has spent the majority of his time in the Majors at the top of the order. Girardi used him toward the bottom of the Yankees' lineup, including 27 games as the eight-hole hitter.
By the time the postseason rolled around, however, Ichiro had returned to batting either first or second. But that was a different lineup than what the Yankees will trot out this season, as power hitters like Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez are gone, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez is sidelined due to injury.
So while Ichiro has had little trouble fitting in during his first spring camp with the Yankees, he'll have to wait to see exactly how he fits into their lineup.
"Right now, it's not like I've been given the starting position," Ichiro said. "I'm just trying now to make sure that the team needs me. And wherever the team wants me, I'm just working hard to get to that point."