Former Mariner Ichiro Suzuki celebrates his second home run against the Boston Red Sox Sunday at Yankee Stadium in New York.
CHICAGO — Ichiro Suzuki has never been known as a home run hitter.
And never will be.
But anyone arriving early enough to watch the 38-year-old take batting practice will notice something: Ichiro hits an awful lot of balls out of the park.
“On a regular basis, I don’t want to say he hits half the balls he sees in batting practice out, but it’s pretty close to that,” Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said before Monday night’s game. “He certainly has that in him. Sunday was a case where a lot of what you see in batting practice came out in the game. I don’t know how much he tries to do that, but he definitely has it in him.”
That’s not to say Ichiro, who smacked two homers to rightfield at the Stadium in Sunday night’s victory over the Red Sox, is about to go on a power trip. But Joe Girardi said playing in a more forgiving park could be a boost.
“He’s probably hit to his ballpark, in a sense, all these years,” Girardi said Sunday night. “Seattle plays extremely large. If he’d been a Yankee for a number of years, who knows how many home runs he might have hit. But we know that there’s power there. You watch his BP and you can see it.”
The two home runs gave him just seven this season and 102 in his 12-season major-league career. The sinewy 5-11, 170-pounder has some power, but it’s never been a major part of his game.
Getting hits, a lot of them, is, and that’s been happening with more frequency since Ichiro joined the Yankees. The outfielder arrived struggling, hitting only .261, but he’s hit safely in 21 of his 23 starts with them and he’s 28-for-87 (.322) overall. Entering Monday night’s game, his on-base percentage was .344 since joining the Yankees, compared with .288 with the Mariners.
Shortly after the Yankees acquired Ichiro, Long said he was among the most “unique” hitters he’s ever seen.
“Just his style and the fact there’s a lot of movement with his head,” Long said Monday. “His hands stay really constant, he kind of drags the bat through the zone. It’s just a different style of hitting that we don’t see here very often. It’s obviously one he’s perfected. The fact his body tends to lean toward first base instead of staying in there, it’s just something you don’t teach guys. That’s not the blueprint.”
But one that, as the hitting coach said, has long worked for Ichiro, though not at first with the Yankees. Although Ichiro hit safely in his first 12 games, there were no multihit games and his average and on-base percentage looked very similar to what they had been all season with the Mariners.
In the last two weeks, that has started to change.
“Since he’s been here, he’s been really good,” Long said. “He’s hit a lot of balls hard. His strike zone discipline’s been better than I thought, his ability to square balls up and hit them hard has been better than I’ve thought, and he’s getting comfortable. I don’t think he’s pressed since he’s been here, and that’s a good sign.”
On the night the Yankees dealt for Ichiro, Long said the hope was that going to a winning atmosphere and getting a chance to finally reach the World Series might help reinvigorate him.
“He just seems at ease,” Long said. “I think he likes the environment, he likes his teammates and I think he’s cherishing the opportunity.”