Apr 27, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Ichiro Suzuki (31) grounds out to shortstop allowing first baseman Mark Teixeira (25) (not pictured) to score during the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Ichiro's New Found Role

When Ichiro was traded to the Yankees in 2012, he was the face of the franchise in Seattle and was inserted into the Yankees’ everyday starting lineup. However, the aging Japanese superstar now finds himself in unfamiliar territory. Suzuki has lacked a starting spot since the beginning of the season and was also mentioned in trade talks at the beginning of the year as well. Ichiro has not let any of these distractions phase him. Like the experienced professional he is, Suzuki has had a quiet, but strong start to the 2014 season. He is hitting .357 in the 21 games he has played in this season. He is scoring a lot of runs with an on-base percentage of .386, and has made some highlight reel catches in the outfield. This play reminds us of the old Ichiro.

However, Ichiro is doing all of this off the bench. Rarely has Suzuki started this year, unless an injury occurs. Yankees’ fans have started to realize that Ichiro is aging. He is not the same, everyday player he was 5 years ago in Seattle. What is he now? He has become a reliable bench player who can come off the bench cold and have solid at-bats. He also helps the Yankees with outfield depth. He gives guys such as Jacoby Ellsbury or Carlos Beltran a rest once in a while.

A huge role that Ichiro has played though, has been off the field. He has been a mentor to the rising star in New York, Masahiro Tanaka. Remember, both Tanaka and Ichiro played in Japan before coming to America. Tanaka looked up to Ichiro as he was a hero to most young ball players in Japan.

The question remains however, how much does Ichiro have left? Yankees’ fans are used to veteran players, such as Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner, who start off strong, and then fold as the year wore on. Will Ichiro be another example of this? I argue for the veteran especially because of his playing style. Those players named above, were power hitters, who were not as valuable in the field. Ichiro is not a 20-home run hitter, but will score a lot of runs and make an impact on defense. If the Yankees use him correctly, Ichiro could be a key factor for the Bronx Bombers down the stretch.

 

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