Live from NY: Ichiro Part II, plus A-Rod aftermath

Mariners fans will get their first look at Ichiro in the Yankees’ home pinstripes this weekend.(Getty Images)

Just arrived in New York and happy to report that my cab driver from the airport has invested wisely in keeping his horn tuned up, though apparently shock absorbers didn’t fit in the budget. Ahhh, you’ve got to love the Big Apple.

Looking forward to an interesting series the next three days between the Mariners and Yankees as well, one heightened by the Ichiro situation and perhaps the Yankees’ memories of a run of hit batters by Seattle hurlers in the last get-together in Safeco Field that included a Felix Hernandez pitch that broke Alex Rodriguez’s hand.

Regarding Ichiro, it’s interesting to note the Mariners have gone 8-2 since the trade, while the Yankees are 4-5. Not connecting the dots there, just throwing out the fact.

Here’s some added context: Seattle went 1-2 against the Yankees, then swept the Royals and Blue Jays.The Yankees had a little tougher matchups, facing the Red Sox and Orioles after leaving Seattle.

Ichiro has performed in pinstripes pretty much as he did with the Mariners this season. He’s hit .250 in nine games with a .270 on-base percentage. Manager Joe Girardi has hit him eighth in the lineup outside of one game leading off in Seattle and is now transitioning him to left field, with Nick Swisher getting healthy again in right.

He’s not the impact player of his prime, but the Yankees are simply looking at him as an adequate replacement for the injured Brett Gardner. That’s certainly a lower bar and lesser role than he held in Seattle, where his history and $18 million salary created greater expectations.

The Mariners clearly are having more fun and there’s an excellent vibe in the clubhouse the last week. And while I think that’s all to do with winning and nothing to do with Ichiro’s departure, it’s also true that the Mariners are a young club and Ichiro really didn’t seem to feel part of that this year. I have no doubt he’s fitting in better with the established veterans in the Yankees clubhouse and I’m told he’s been far more open and personable with the New York media so far as well.

So maybe a fresh start was perfect for Ichiro. And certainly the Mariners haven’t floundered in his absence. Their improved offense hasn’t come from his vacated right-field position, however. Carlos Peguero went 1-for-20 (.050) with 12 strikeouts and one RBI in six starts in right field before getting shipped back to Tacoma.

Casper Wells has since moved to right field. And while he’s excelled defensively, his bat has cooled and he’s 3-for-15 (.200) with two runs, one RBI and one walk in his four starts in right since Ichiro’s trade.

So while the combined right fielder’s in Ichiro’s absence have hit .114 in 10 games, the obvious improvement in that same span has been the addition of Mike Carp at first base. He’s hit .367 with a home run and six RBIs in nine games since Justin Smoak’s demotion.

Kyle Seager and Brendan Ryan also hit very well on the homestand, Dustin Ackley started showing significant signs of life and newcomer Eric Thames delivered a big two-run bomb on Thursday.

Thames more accurately can be viewed as Ichiro’s lineup replacement for the rest of this season, along with Trayvon Robinson (who has gone 4-for-10 since being called up) as it appears they’ll be filling the left-field duties with Wells simply switching from left to right. Thames definitely adds more potential thump at one of the corner outfield spots, though his defense isn’t in Ichiro’s class, so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out these final two months.

As for the potential of Yankee retaliation, we’ll wait and see on that as well. Hernandez hit three batters in the game when he broke Rodriguez’s hand, also plunking Ichiro and Derek Jeter. Hernandez clearly was struggling with his control that game and the pitch that got A-Rod was a changeup — though Felix’s changeup isn’t exactly a Jamie Moyer soft toss.

After rookie reliever Lucas Luetge had Raul Ibanez diving out of the way of a high pitch up near his head, there was some question whether the Yankees would retaliate in the final game of the series. Instead, Jeter got hit again by Seattle reliever Josh Kinney in the seventh inning, while the Yankees never responded.

So that one bears watching as well, though my guess is the Yankees have great respect for Felix and understood he just had a rough day in his particular case. He’ll be on the hill Saturday afternoon.

Here’s the full pitching matchups for the series at Yankee Stadium:

Friday (4:05 p.m. PT): Kevin Millwood (4-8, 3.90 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.57)
Saturday (10:05 a.m. PT): Felix Hernandez (9-5, 2.79) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 3.28)
Sunday (10:05 a.m. PT): Hisashi Iwakuma (2-2, 4.10) vs. Freddy Garcia (4-5, 5.10)

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