Ichiro returns to clubhouse, humor intact

Ichiro returns to clubhouse, humor intact

SEATTLE -- Ichiro Suzuki came back to the office Monday with his ulcer healed, his Mariners uniform on once again, and his sense of humor in perfectly dry midseason form.

"I feel so good that it's annoying," a smiling Ichiro told reporters through interpreter Ken Barron. "I feel so good that I feel like I would do something bad."

The Mariners, in first place in the American League West after a confidence-boosting 5-2 road trip through Minnesota and Oakland to begin their season, arrived at Safeco Field in the morning to take part in a full-squad workout a day in advance of their home opener against the Angels.

And for the first time since last fall, the Mariners' leadoff man and right fielder strutted through the Mariners clubhouse here, hugging players and manager Don Wakamatsu, and jogged onto the field to stretch, shag flies and take batting practice.

He also didn't hesitate to pronounce himself ready to go -- pending an upcoming blood test -- once he's eligible to come off the disabled list Wednesday.

"Up to this point, I've been able to play baseball with health," Ichiro said. "I kind of took it for granted, but now I really understand the joy of being healthy and being able to play baseball from this experience."

Ichiro missed a good deal of Spring Training while he was with the Japanese team in the World Baseball Classic, and after his game-winning hit iced the championship game win over Korea, he came back to the Mariners in Peoria, Ariz.

He missed the final three games of Spring Training because of light-headedness and was diagnosed with the bleeding ulcer shortly thereafter.

Ichiro said doctors told him the stress of the Classic could have played a factor in the development of the ulcer, but on Monday he said he wasn't sure.

"That's just a guess," Ichiro said. "If you think about it, I could get an ulcer from the stress of talking to you guys [the media] as well. Right now, something might be happening to my stomach as we speak."

All kidding aside, Ichiro's return is a boon for a team already benefiting from the areas of expertise he's famous for. New outfield additions Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez have provided speed and excellent defense as Wakamatsu's focus on fundamental baseball has paid off during the first week.

"He's a future Hall of Fame guy, he's a great talent, he brings a lot to a ballclub," starter Jarrod Washburn said. "We were able to keep our head above water real well without him here, and he's just going to add another dimension to us.

"We're doing a good job of doing all the little things and using our speed and taking advantage of things and playing great defense, and he's just going to make us that much better in all those spots."

Ichiro said he chafed at the fact that he couldn't watch his team's first seven games on television because he was in Arizona, but he definitely made sure to check the box scores.

"It was very annoying for me because I didn't get to watch [on TV], but of course I got to see the results, and they made me very happy," Ichiro said. "But I guess I'm a little upset that we lost two games."

In his absence, the Mariners hung his No. 51 jersey in the dugout at all times and waited eagerly for his return to health and to the lineup.

"We've kept in contact with him," Wakamatsu said. "He's a big part of this club, obviously, and has done a lot in this organization and will continue to. So it's nice to have the whole team back together."

Washburn, who playfully derided Ichiro for "only getting seven hits" in 10 at-bats in an extended spring training game in Arizona last week, agreed.

"I know it was killing him to not be out there with us," Washburn said. "To not be on the field was killing him enough, but just to not be able to be with his team, I know that was eating him up inside. So it's good for him and for us to have him back and be a part of us and now we're back at full strength, we'll go get 'em."

Fellow veteran Ken Griffey Jr. said Ichiro being healthy is the most important thing.

"It's a long season, and we don't want to rush him into anything right now," Griffey said. "Let's just make sure he's feeling good and get him out there when he's ready. He'll be fine."

With his trademark wit in tact, Ichiro didn't give any indications to the contrary. When asked if the doctors offered any preventative measures for ulcer treatment, Ichiro, surrounded by about 20 reporters, smiled again

"Yes," he said. "They told me to stay away from the media."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.