JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Now that he has Ichiro Suzuki is back on the field, Miami manager Don Mattingly looks forward to resting him — at least once the regular season starts.
The 43-year-old Suzkui made his Grapefruit League debut on Sunday, going 0 for 2 as the Marlins' designated hitter in a 7-7 tie with Houston.
Injuries in the Marlins outfield last season forced Mattlingly to play Suzuki in the field 78 times, significantly more than than Miami's preseason blueprint designed.
"I think we had the most success when it was more of a limited role," Mattingly said. "The one time his numbers dipped was when he was in there every day, every day, every day. Hopefully we're healthy and we don't get to that."
Suzuki started in 38 of his 54 right field appearances last season, with most of those coming when Giancarlo Stanton hit the disabled list. He also started double-digit games in left and center.
His .291 batting average last season improved significantly from the .229 average he posted while starting 88 games the year prior, his first with Miami. In August, he became the 30th major leaguer to reach the 3,000-hit plateau, doing so with a triple at Colorado.
Mattingly would like to use Suzuki for no more than a couple of starts per week in the field this season, likening the frequency to that of a backup catcher.
"He's pretty much always prepared," Mattingly said. "He's an easy guy to get ready for that."
A thigh injury sustained during a collision with fellow outfielder Brandon Barnes during an outfield communication on Feb. 21 temporarily halted Suzuki's spring.
Had the injury occurred during the regular season, Suzuki said the chances of him going on the disabled list would have been "probably high," especially now that MLB has instituted a 10-day DL.
"It definitely wasn't fun but it's one of those things where sometimes you have to experience something to realize what people go through," he said through a translator.
At the time of the injury, Suzuki said it was the first time in his career he'd visited the training room for treatment. Only once in his 16-year career has he been on the DL, in 2009 for a bleeding ulcer.
The delay in seeing the field this spring may actually prove beneficial.
"I'm 43 now, so it's OK if my first game is a little bit later than in the past," Suzuki said.
Suzuki struck out in his first at-bat when he couldn't check his swing. In his second he bounced out to short, then drew a walk in his final appearance, scoring on Adeiny Hechavarria's first homer of the spring.
"Seeing him back a week later, it's a lot easier for me," said Barnes, who became the subject of clubhouse ribbing following the collision.
Suzuki will get Monday off, then play the outfield for the first time on Tuesday. After that, he will likely see action on alternating days for the near future.