When Ichiro Suzuki speaks to American media, he uses a translator. But he doesn’t really need one.
This morning, Ichiro was asked how he felt this offseason when the Yankees signed two high-profile free agents, essentially forcing Ichiro into a backup role. Ichiro’s translator, Allen Turner, was relaying Ichiro’s answer — “My reaction was, kind of like…” — when Ichiro chimed in with one word of perfect English.
It was Ichiro’s funny way of handling a situation that can’t be very comfortable for him. This is his 14th Major League season, and he was a Japanese star long before that. Now it seems likely that he’ll be a fifth outfielder, used mostly for pinch running and late-inning defense.
“This is a place where the greatest players gather and play, so I’m really excited to play with those guys,” Ichiro said. “Obviously with the additions, I’m going to have to find a place for myself, but I worked hard this offseason. I worked on a lot of things, and throughout spring training, hopefully those things will come together and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Did he think about the possibility of being traded?
“When you’re here with the Yankees, you tend to think about those things,” he said. “You just never know with the great players coming here. I thought about a lot of things, which a lot of players do.”
So, would he rather play for a team with more guaranteed playing time? Ichiro answered quickly in Japanese, and he was laughing as he spoke. When Allen translated, we understood why.
“(I’m) not going to fall for questions like that,” he said.
· There was no workout for position players today, but one player did take ground balls. Eduardo Nunez was out there for quite a while with infield coach Mick Kelleher. He was taking grounders at both third base and shortstop. I saw him botch one, but it’s hard to take much meaning from a session like that.
· Over at the minor league complex, Manny Banuelos threw live batting practice for the first time this spring. He faced hitters in simulated games late last year, but this was his first time throwing to hitters after a long winter of rest. “Good, good, feels pretty good,” he said. “All my pitches worked. Velocity is good. I didn’t throw, like, 100 percent because it was the first time, but it feels pretty good. … I’m happy man. It feels strong, feels good.”
· Brett Gardner on his expected move back to left field: “I played over there for a couple of years a few years ago. I feel comfortable over there. I told Joe I can play right too if he needs me to. I’ll do whatever I’m needed to do to help the team win. Wherever I’m playing out there, wherever I’m hitting in the lineup, whatever he needs me to do, I’ll be ready.”
· Honestly, with all of the Derek Jeter buzz, there really wasn’t much talk about the other bullpens and BP sessions that happened today. Jeter pretty thoroughly overshadowed everything else. Girardi said only that everyone is healthy. It might be back to business as usual tomorrow, but for today, it was all about Jeter. Pitchers were even joking about that this morning, that absolutely no one was going to be writing about anything they did today.
· Random observation in the clubhouse: Occasionally you hear about how nice Jeter is to the young guys and the new guys in the clubhouse. At one point this morning, I noticed someone rushing over to Jeter’s locker to show him pictures on a cell phone. It was Antoan Richardson, the minor league free agent just signed this winter. How that guy already has a joking, laughing relationship is beyond me. Must have gotten to know one another at the Himes complex. I just thought it was cool to see it.
· Tomorrow is the first full-squad workout, and Girardi said he’s not particularly worried about finding out whether Jeter can still play shortstop or whether he can still hit. Seems like the Yankees are basically banking on those things. “The biggest thing for me is seeing how he responds going back-to-back, back-to-back-to-back, back-to-back-to-back-to-back, that sort of thing,” Girardi said. “And trying to get a thought in my mind how many days you can push him in a row. That’s the biggest thing for me. I feel good about running him out there every day, it’s just how many days in arrow and what can I learn in spring training and early in the season and what can I do.”
· Girardi also downplayed the possibility of pulling Jeter for late-inning defense. “My goal is, when I run him out there, is to run him out there for nine innings,” Girardi said. Honestly, I’m starting to think Brendan Ryan’s role as a late-inning defensive replacement might be more likely at second or third than at shortstop, but we’ll have to wait and see.
· Let’s give the last word to Hal Steinbrenner. During his press conference, Jeter said he tried to call Steinbrenner the night before his retirement announcement, but Jeter never returned his call. “I didn’t recognize the area code,” Steinbrenner said. “I didn’t check the voice mail until the next day. It said Florida, and it was some crazy area code. My bad. Usually somebody texts me, and that’s what he did the next day. He texted me and I called him right away. My bad. I don’t check voice mail. I have to be better about that. It was a surprise. I figured he was calling to talk about the team and what improvements we needed to make still. It was a surprise, but again, we’ve got a whole year.”
Associated Press photos