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3 observations after Mariners' wins in Japan 

@gregjohnsmlb
March 22, 2019

SEATTLE -- While Ichiro Suzuki understandably drew much of the focus of the Opening Series in Tokyo, not to be lost in that dramatic farewell was the fact the rebuilt Mariners swept the A’s in the two-game set. Here are three observations from Tokyo: 1. The 'pen isn’t empty As

SEATTLE -- While Ichiro Suzuki understandably drew much of the focus of the Opening Series in Tokyo, not to be lost in that dramatic farewell was the fact the rebuilt Mariners swept the A’s in the two-game set.

Here are three observations from Tokyo:

1. The 'pen isn’t empty

As expected, the Mariners lineup did some damage, particularly in the hitter-friendly Tokyo Dome, scoring 14 runs in the two games and getting four long balls -- from Tim Beckham, Mitch Haniger, Ryon Healy and the big Opening Day slam from Domingo Santana.

Beckham was terrific as the new shortstop went 5-for-7 with two walks and scored four times. With Dee Gordon showing the hop back in his step in the leadoff role and Mallex Smith expected to rejoin the club as early as Thursday’s home opener, this club will have a pretty interesting combination of speed and power.

The defense remains a question. Healy made some nice plays at third base, but he’s still adjusting to that position, particularly with all the new shifting required. Jay Bruce dropped a ball at first base that cost a run on Thursday, and there’ll be times when those plays cost games.

But the biggest upside from the two games was a bullpen that stepped up huge in both wins, including the 12-inning marathon on Thursday when the relievers held their own against Oakland’s outstanding 'pen.

Two games and two saves for Hunter Strickland loom large, but there also were strong showings from guys like rookie Matt Festa, Rule 5 pickup Brandon Brennan and veteran free-agent additions Cory Gearrin and Zac Rosscup.

Two games don’t tell a season’s story by any means, but that was a positive development out of the gate in a tough place to pitch.

2. Maybe there’s something to being a team

There are definite challenges to opening a season in Tokyo. The extreme travel, jetlag and disruption of players’ routines aren’t ideal. But manager Scott Servais embraced the trip and repeatedly noted it was a great way for a team with so many new players to bond quickly.

That point was driven home when Ichiro held his hastily called retirement announcement postgame on Thursday. As Ichiro spoke to a small group of U.S. reporters in the enclosed bullpen adjacent to the visiting clubhouse at the Tokyo Dome, the entire team gathered behind the reporters to listen.

It was a remarkable scene, with all the players still in full uniform, smiling ear to ear, when normally they’d have been showering and hustling to get ready to board the bus that was slated to head to the airport 75 minutes after the final pitch.

“A lot of people in here have said it, but I think we’re a lot better than people are giving us credit for,” said first baseman Daniel Vogelbach. “I kind of like it that way. We’ve got a really good clubhouse and everybody gets along and is close. I’m a firm believer that good chemistry wins. I think we have really, really good chemistry here, and it’s going to be a fun year.”

Talent ultimately wins games, but it does help when teammates are unified. Last year's Mariners fractured a bit when things got tough in the second half, so perhaps this Tokyo trip will help start this new group off on the right foot.

3. It’s time to get back to the routine

While it’s an amazing experience to see Japan and the entire Ichi-mania scene was fascinating to watch, pretty much everyone in the Mariners’ organization -- from players to coaches to staff members -- is ready to get back home and return to a normal schedule and get into the routine of the regular season.

All the hoopla over Ichiro’s farewell was well deserved, but it’ll be possible now to set that aside and focus entirely on the regular season.

The Mariners are off Friday, then host a FanFest and workout for the players on Saturday and Sunday, followed by exhibition games on Monday and Tuesday against the Padres -- all at newly-renamed T-Mobile Park. Then it’s one day off before Thursday’s home opener against the Red Sox.

That’s not a lot of downtime to recover from jet lag, but it should give the players a chance to get back into normal sleep patterns and have time for the many newcomers to start finding or settling into new housing in Seattle.

The life of Major League ballplayers is pretty nomadic, but even these guys are ready to take a breath before the real work of the 162-game marathon resumes.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.