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Ichiro makes his debut as Mariners’ batting practice pitcher

Ichiro threw batting practice to Mariners hitters on Tuesday, including catcher Mike Zunino. (AP)

HOUSTON – A little fun for the Mariners hours before their showdown with the Astros: Ichiro threw early batting practice.

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He threw off a ramp from about 55 feet out for 15 minutes to a group that included Mike Zunino, Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia.

“I think I could have done a little better,” Ichiro said after through interpreter Allen Turner. “It was the first time I threw off the ramp, it was the first time I threw outside. I had been throwing in the cage; I think I can do better.”

Word that Ichiro had been throwing in the batting cage behind the Mariners’ dugout during games got to Scott Servais a couple of weeks ago. Servais got the hint from those around him that perhaps Ichiro would like to throw batting practice and extended the invitation to do so on this road trip.

“Little did I know he would be throwing 200 balls a day in the batting cage to get ready,” Servais said Tuesday afternoon.

It was an assignment Ichiro clearly took seriously.

“I used to be a pitcher before,” he pointed out. “I pitched one inning when I was with the Marlins. Obviously when you are a pitcher you don’t want guys getting hits off you, today was the first time I threw in hoping they would get it. It definitely was different.”

The three hitters definitely got it. After the second round, balls were ricocheting loudly off the scoreboard, outfield seats and even train tracks at Minute Maid Park. The reviews of Ichiro as a batting practice-thrower were positive.

“Good,” said Zunino when asked to evaluate what he saw from the future Hall of Famer. “I’ve seen him throw too many baseballs in a cage in the last week during games. The guy is a machine. He’s got his routine, he does something every inning to stay ready to go and I think throwing batting practice was one of them. Probably 200 balls a day right to Allen so I think he was ready for this opportunity.”

So will we see Ichiro throw batting practice again? He is certainly up for it.

“If guys like hitting off me I would throw every day,” said Ichiro. “It’s all up to the guys if they like how I threw. If they say ‘I didn’t like the way he threw,’ then I wouldn’t do it.”

Zunino would be happy to step in against him again.

“He was good,” he said. “He was able to move the ball around, and as he got going I think he got a feel for where guys wanted it. Heck, I will take anybody who throws BP to me. It was all good.”

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