Ichiro itching to pitch in World Baseball Classic

Ichiro Suzuki has always maintained that he could pitch successfully at the big-league level. It now appears if a game runs long enough in the World Baseball Classic, the Seattle Mariners star right fielder might actually get that chance.

According to a Japanese sports Web site, nikkansports.com, Ichiro skipped batting practice at the team’s Saturday workout at the Skymark Stadium in Kobe, Japan, and instead threw a 56-pitch bullpen session off the mound.

There are accompanying pictures of Ichiro throwing from the mound on the site sanspo.com.

The Nikkan story’s first sentence is translated as “This is serious!” implying that Ichiro’s presence on the mound wasn’t just some loose, goofing-off time during the workout.

Japanese manager Tatsunori Hara said he might use Ichiro to pitch in emergency situations such as games that go deep into extra innings.

Of the 56 pitches, Ichiro reportedly threw 21 curves and also a forkball that he learned in his younger days. His fastball was reported to have touched 92 mph, and in the past Ichiro said he has reached 95 mph.

Those familiar with his career history will recall that Ichiro was primarily known for his pitching early on in his career, and Japanese professional teams weren’t convinced his unique swing was conducive to consistent hitting.

Even after he made his mark as a hitter in baseball, Ichiro still liked the idea of pitching. During the 1996 Pacific League All-Star Game, Ichiro took the mound to face Hideki Matsui, but didn’t actually face the future Yankees slugger due to a pinch-hitter being inserted. He did retire that hitter on a ground ball to end the game.

A few years ago, Ichiro joked with USA Today that he would turn to pitching once he reached age 40.

Most recently, Ichiro volunteered to pitch for the Mariners in a July 6 extra-inning loss to the Detroit Tigers in which then-manager Jim Riggleman used backup catcher Jamie Burke on the mound because he ran out of relievers.

Even a few days later, Ichiro wanted the chance to pitch.

“Every time I see a catcher’s glove I want to pitch,” Ichiro said.

Will he get that chance with the Japanese team? Perhaps.

The Mariners have no control over whether he does or doesn’t. They can make a request to the Japanese baseball federation that he not pitch, but what he does or doesn’t do during the World Baseball Classic is out of the Mariners’ control.

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