Notebook: Ichiro no longer a zero in M's home-run column
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA - Ichiro gave the Mariners what they have been waiting for yesterday with his first spring home run - to right field - along with two deep doubles in a 7-4 loss to Oakland.
Everyone can now take a deep breath.
"We've been wanting to see him do that," Manager Lou Piniella said of the right-side home run by the left-handed-hitting Ichiro. "The ball jumps off his bat in batting practice. We just wanted to see that in a game."
Ichiro's seventh-inning, two-run shot off Athletics pitcher Erik Hiljus completes his portfolio. The 5-foot-9, 160-pounder, trying to become the first position player from his country to reach the majors, has been hitting well (.364) this spring. However, just about all his hits were to the left side. There was growing concern whether he could pull an inside fastball and hit it with any muscle.
Piniella has talked and worked with Ichiro with the idea of pulling the ball because the skipper understands that if pitchers realize he can't, they'll continue to pitch him hard inside. Ichiro has passed that test.
"No doubt, he showed me something today," batting instructor Gerald Perry said. "It was good to see. Now the defense has to play him honestly. The outfielders can't play him shallow anymore."
Ichiro's two doubles both were to left field, but they were also driven hard. His second double in the fifth inning sailed over the head of left fielder Robin Jennings, who was playing too shallow. What Ichiro's power flash does is put the advance scouts on notice in their reports.
"You do that a few times and the outfielder has to respect you and play you deeper," Piniella said. "Then there's lots of room for the ball to drop in (front)."
That's just the way Ichiro likes it and the primary reason he won seven straight batting titles in Japan. His game is slap and run. He likes to go the opposite way, placing his hits in that vast pasture just beyond the infield cut. But to set that up, he has to demonstrate he can muscle up at times.
"He can turn on it," A's Manager Art Howe said. "We have to figure out how to get him out. That's what spring training is all about."
Ichiro, who didn't speak much afterward, said the low fastball he hit "was a good pitch, a fine pitch." When asked later if this means he can be more productive, he said, "I hope it does."
Starter Aaron Sele, who had allowed just one run in nine innings (three starts) this spring, had an uneasy outing against the A's. Sele was in trouble from the opening double off the center-field wall by Ryan Christianson.
Sele gave up three runs on nine hits, walking one and striking out two. He was scheduled to work five innings but his 77 pitches took him only through four innings.
"He was all over the place," Piniella said. "His curveball was not sharp. He was not locating his fastball. It was not a good outing, but it's still spring."
The A's also were without many of their expected regular-season players such as MVP Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, Adam Piatt and Johnny Damon.
The battle continues for the second left-handed reliever behind Arthur Rhodes. Both Norm Charlton and Rob Ramsay worked a couple of innings yesterday, but neither dazzled.
Ramsay walked the first batter he faced in the fifth, and that runner eventually scored. He gave up two runs on two hits, striking out two and walking one. Charlton took over in the seventh and gave up two hits and one run, walking none and striking out two. The run scored on a triple by left-handed-hitting Robin Jennings.
"It's (battle) still going on," Piniella said. "I like (Brian) Fuentes, too. Over the next 10 days we'll resolve that issue."
• It was a power day for the Mariners. Besides Ichiro, both Edgar Martínez and Tom Lampkin hit first-pitch home runs. It was the first for Lampkin and the third for Martinez. ... José Paniagua finished the ninth, allowing two hits and a one run.
Bob Sherwin can be reached at 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.