NEW YORK (AP) — Ichiro Suzuki bounced around left field in Yankee Stadium during batting practice, getting a sense of how the ball travels in his new home ballpark and getting a look at the view from what will be his new position.
Suzuki went 1-for-4, scoring twice, in his debut in Yankees pinstripes as New York routed the Boston Red Sox 10-3 ON Friday night.
Having played in New York dozens of times, Suzuki knows it will take some work to fully win over the fans.
“As a visitor you come in here, a lot of fans in the stands are tough on the players,” Suzuki said through a translator. “Right now I’m wearing the pinstripes. When I go out there, hopefully those fans will be on my side. But obviously I need to do well … so they will be on my side.”
The familiar cry of “Ichiiiiiro!” rang out once in a near empty stadium when the 10-time All-Star took the field for early batting practice with a small group of his new teammates. He received a warm ovation when the lineups were announced just minutes before game time and a loud cheer when he acknowledged the Bleacher Creatures with a wave during roll call in the first inning.
Suzuki was met with a sustained ovation followed by more chanting of his name when he came up for the first time, in the second inning. He hit a fly to center field.
In his second at-bat, he singled and scored on Martin’s two-run homer to left field off Aaron Cook.
Suzuki was also on base when Curtis Granderson hit a grand slam in the eighth inning.
“It has been a while since this type of experience,” Suzuki said of the atmosphere and winning attitude in New York after the game.
The Yankees know they aren’t getting the same player who won 10 Gold Gloves or has over 3,800 hits in his career in the major leagues and Japan combined. While he still wields his bat like a deft swordsman, he doesn’t slice hits all over the field at quite the same pace as he used to. His on-base percentage of .288 is almost 40 points lower than his career batting average. He went 3-for-12 in his first three games for New York in Seattle and is hitting .261 this season.
Still, he is one of the top outfielders in the game and can run, two elements that have been missing from the Yankees lineup since Brett Gardner went out with an elbow injury on April 28 and had surgery last week. Suzuki batted eighth and started in right field Friday night but he will move to left when Nick Swisher returns from a hip flexor injury — possibly Saturday, manager Joe Girardi said.
Girardi isn’t worried that the 38-year-old likely Hall of Famer will have trouble rising to the challenge of playing for a first-place team in New York after being mired in last place for a small-market team in Seattle.
“This guy’s been through a lot in his career — think about the expectations, the media coverage that surrounded him, the ability he has,” Girardi said. “We’re pretty confident that New York is not going to be anything too big for him, and that’s comforting.”
All the talk of Suzuki being a problem in the young Seattle clubhouse, isolating himself and acting coldly toward teammates, hasn’t been evident in his first five days with the Yankees. In the New York clubhouse, he was given a locker between former teammates Rafael Soriano and Raul Ibanez where his ever present black bat case was standing on end. He has politely chatted with the many Japanese reporters who have followed him to New York, and he has gone about his idiosyncratic routine without issue.
“As a visitor coming in for 12 years I’ve gotten to see some of what goes on here,” he said. “What I realize is mentally, it really is different than the teams I have been on.”
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine has been a champion of Suzuki going way back to the mid-1990s when he was a manager in Japan, and Suzuki was a rising star. He would prefer that Suzuki finds his stride in New York after the weekend.
“I want to see him get to the plate and go back to the dugout,” Valentine said. “It’ll be exciting for him and the fans. I think he’s a special person and a special baseball player, and now he’s in a special situation.”
NOTES: RHP Joba Chamberlain (dislocated ankle) is going to make a rehab appearance for Double-A Trenton on Sunday. “I feel like I am ready, obviously the physical part is over,” Chamberlain said. “Now it’s the mental part of getting into a routine in your pitches and trusting the fact you can get guys out.” Girardi said it’s still day by day with Chamberlain’s schedule so he isn’t sure what the next step will be. … Girardi still didn’t put a timetable on 3B Alex Rodriguez’s return from a broken hand. He said A-Rod will have an X-ray next week.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.