By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
PEORIA, Ariz. — The results may not count at spring training, but the effort certainly does for Ichiro Suzuki.
That’s why Suzuki made an all-out run toward the right-field wall before completing a spectacular play Tuesday that he described as one of the best catches of his career.
It happened in the second inning of the Seattle Mariners’ 6-4 exhibition victory over the L.A. Angels when Jeff Mathis crushed a line drive to straight-away right field.
Suzuki turned and sprinted full speed toward the wall and, with his back to the infield, made not just an over-the-shoulder catch but an over-his head-Willie Maysish catch.
“I’ve never caught a ball like that before, so it will stay in my memory,” Suzuki said. “If you look at the angle, usually it’s from the right or the left. But that was straight from the top. That was a tough play and was one of my (most) impressive catches.”
The all-out crash into the warning track and base of the wall is what you’d expect of Eric Byrnes more than Suzuki, especially at spring training and particularly by a guy who rarely leaves his feet to make a catch.
Angels pitcher Scott Shields had the closest view of it from the bullpen just a few feet away.
“It reminded me of Mays’ great catch, and Jim Edmonds’ catch,” Shields said. “He had both arms extended and was going down when he was catching it. I gave a little clap. You have to appreciate catches like that in spring training. During the season it’s different. You’re saying, ‘Drop it.’”
Suzuki often makes catches like that during batting practice, but never while running so fast and so close to the wall as he did in Tuesday’s game.
“Amazingly, you watch him in practice and he makes that behind-the-back catch on line drives,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “He has GPS.”
Why risk it in a spring training game?
“Easy, I didn’t feel danger in that situation,” Suzuki said. “It’s (because of) instinct as a professional player and an obligation where you have to go all-out on every play, even though it’s spring training. All of our fans come to the ballpark to watch our performance and they pay a lot of money, so that’s an obligation.”
Wakamatsu admitted holding his breath but he also appreciated the effort on that play, plus Suzuki’s willingness to play all nine innings in his third game in three days.
“You look out there and who is the only one of the regulars staying in the ballgame?” Wakamatsu asked. “He could have easily come out of that ballgame but he didn’t want to. He’s a leader on this ballclub.”
Wakamatsu said Suzuki would play tonight’s game against the Padres, his fourth straight, then get Thursday off.
Lee plays catch, feels pain
Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee, who suffered a lower right abdominal strain March 15, played catch Tuesday morning for six minutes in the first of a gradual throwing program designed to get him back on the mound.
“He’ll play catch every other day, and we’ll do that two or three times and see where we’re at,” head trainer Griffin said.
Lee suffered the injury when he backed up home plate and collided with Chris Snyder of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Lee continued to pitch in the game and was ejected after throwing a pitch near Snyder’s head. That led to a five-game suspension by major league baseball, which Lee will appeal.
Lee tried to throw his normal bullpen session last Thursday when he felt discomfort, and the next day he traveled to Seattle, where he received an injection to help accelerate recovery.
He said he still felt the injury Tuesday when he threw.
“It’s not super-type painful but it doesn’t feel good, either,” Lee said. “I don’t even know how to describe it.”
The Mariners won’t estimate when Lee might return, although it doesn’t seem possible that he’ll be ready when the season begins.
“Caution has to come first,” Wakamatsu said. “You’re looking at a long season and we have to make sure we don’t rush him back.”
Johnson ready for regular duty
Catcher Rob Johnson remains in the moving-cautiously stage of spring training after having surgery on both hips early this offseason. But he’s expected to catch in back-to-back games (five innings each) this week in what will be the biggest test of those hips.
Johnson says he’s more than ready, not just for the back-to-back duty but for the regular season.
“I feel like I’m ready to go, honestly,” he said. “They’re still being conservative, but the way I feel right now there’s no doubt in my mind that I can go out and catch nine innings today and nine innings tomorrow.”
Today in camp
The Mariners play the Padres at 7:05 p.m., with the game televised by the MLB Network and carried on radio by ESPN 710 AM. Left-hander Jason Vargas will start for the Mariners, who also are scheduled to pitch right-handers David Aardsma and Sean White.
Suzuki’s spectacular catch overshadowed a couple of nice plays at third base by Jose Lopez. In the first inning, he took a bad hop off his chest and threw out Erick Aybar, and in the fourth he robbed Mathis of extra bases with a diving backhand catch and throw to first. On that play, first baseman Casey Kotchman proved his defensive reputation by making a backhand scoop of Lopez’s throw in the dirt. … Left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith, who could slide into the No. 2 spot in the starting rotation because of Lee’s injury, allowed eight hits and four runs in five innings, inflating his exhibition ERA to 7.71. … Right-hander Kanekoa Texeira continued to make a good impression in his bid to win a bullpen spot, pitching a scoreless inning. … Erik Bedard played long toss and Griffin said it went well. Bedard will continue on a long toss and flat-ground throwing program. The Mariners had said would throw off a mound Tuesday in his comeback from shoulder surgery last August, but he experienced minor stiffness late last week. … Right-hander Doug Fister, whose forearm had been swollen since he was hit by a line drive Friday, probably will pitch off the bullpen mound today, Griffin said. Fister played catch Tuesday with no problems. … Left-handed pitcher Garrett Olson also threw off flat ground and is close to throwing a bullpen. He took a ground ball off the ring finger of his left hand during a fielding drill last Wednesday.
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog