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Ichiro tabbed for start in season opener

@gregjohnsmlb
March 18, 2019

TOKYO -- Ichiro Suzuki isn’t carrying a hot bat, but he will be carrying the hopes of an entire nation on Wednesday, as Mariners manager Scott Servais confirmed the 45-year-old outfielder will start in Seattle’s Opening Day game against the A’s at the Tokyo Dome. Ichiro was the center of

TOKYO -- Ichiro Suzuki isn’t carrying a hot bat, but he will be carrying the hopes of an entire nation on Wednesday, as Mariners manager Scott Servais confirmed the 45-year-old outfielder will start in Seattle’s Opening Day game against the A’s at the Tokyo Dome.

Ichiro was the center of attention during the Mariners’ two exhibition wins over the Yomiuri Giants in his first time playing in Japan since the most recent Opening Series in Tokyo in 2012, but he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout in Monday’s 6-5 win and is now 2-for-31 on the spring.

The near-sellout crowd hung again on every Ichiro move, however, and roared in appreciation when he unleashed a strong throw from right field on the fly to third baseman Ryon Healy after Alex Guerrero had tagged up at second in the third inning.

Ichiro will be 45 years, 149 days old on Wednesday. The only older position player to start on Opening Day was Julio Franco, who was 45 years, 227 days old in 2004 when he started for the Braves at first base.

Servais didn’t say where Ichiro would play on Wednesday (2:35 a.m. PT/ 6:35 p.m. local time on ESPN), but it’s expected he’ll start in right field, where he played during the two exhibition contests

“He’s been playing fine in the outfield,” Servais said. “Obviously he showed plenty of arm strength on that one throw to third base. He’ll start the game and we’ll see how it plays out from there.”

The Mariners promised Ichiro a roster spot in Japan if he stayed healthy this spring, though there’s no guarantee beyond that. When the team returns to Seattle next week, it will need to cut down to a final 25-man roster for the remainder of the regular season.

For now, though, the Mariners are relishing the opportunity to let their all-time hit leader get his due in his homeland, where he spent the first nine years of his pro career before signing with Seattle in 2001.

“I’m excited for him,” Servais said. “It hasn’t been a great Spring Training for him offensively. But if there’s anybody who can turn it on for a few days, it’s certainly Ichiro.”

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