Erasmo Ramirez will make his first start of the season at 12:05 p.m. PT Sunday when the Mariners pursue a three-game sweep of the Rangers in Arlington, TX. But in a surprising move, the Mariners made roster room by sending down LF Guillermo Heredia to AAA Tacoma despite the fact that he’s hitting .310 with two home runs.
That means keeping Ichiro as the reserve outfielder despite the fact that he’s hitting .212 in 33 at-bats over 11 games — seven singles, no walks and four strikeouts, leaving him with a .212 on-base percentage. Plus, he has had a few episodes in the field of failing to get to catchable fly balls.
But he was in the starting lineup Sunday, hitting sixth and playing right field. Mitch Haniger was moved to center as Dee Gordon, resting a sore foot, was out of the lineup against Rangers lefty starter Martin Perez.
This controversial roster moment was anticipated since the March 7 signing of Ichiro, 44, a future Hall of Famer and former Mariners hero who was released after last season by the Marlins, who used him primarily as a pinch-hitter. He was hired to fill in for starter Ben Gamel, who strained an oblique muscle early in spring training and would not return until last week.
Heredia, a good defender recovering from a shoulder injury, was slated to platoon in left when Gamel was hurt. Now that all are healthy, that left the Mariners with five outfielders, or one too many if the club wanted to keep an eight-man bullpen, an almost mandatory minimum given the shakiness of the starting rotation. The short start Saturday of James Paxton (five earned runs in four innings and 96 pitches, including three walks) in an 8-6 Mariners win helped make that point.
But Ichiro signed a one-year deal for $750,000 despite appearing to be a temporary hire. Unless his production improves dramatically, there’s little to justify keeping him in favor of the 27-year-old Cuban who fills the platoon role well and keeps getting better.