PEORIA, Ariz. — Ichiro Suzuki went 0-for-4 the day Felix Hernandez made his debut for the Seattle Mariners in 2005. But that is not how Hernandez remembers it. To him, Suzuki might as well have batted 1.000.
“Every time he came up to the plate was a hit,” Hernandez said by his locker on Tuesday at the Peoria Sports Complex. “It was exciting. He could do a lot of things on the field.”
Suzuki, 44, will soon return officially to the Mariners’ clubhouse, where he already has a locker stall, a stack of mail and his old No. 51 jersey waiting for him. On Wednesday, the Mariners announced a one-year contract with Suzuki, a former American League Most Valuable Player.
About 10 miles down Bell Road, at the Texas Rangers’ complex in Surprise, another former superstar has also found a home. Tim Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award winner for the San Francisco Giants, worked out with the Rangers on Tuesday after agreeing to a contract.
The one-year deal was official Wednesday after the Rangers got the results of a physical exam. They plan to use Lincecum, 33, as a reliever, but they do not know exactly what they have.
“There’s two kinds of realities here,” Texas general manager Jon Daniels said. “One is that you’re talking about one of the best pitchers of this generation, who has been unique from day one in how he’s built, how he does it, his arsenal and his body. And so, from that standpoint, we used to say this about Josh Hamilton: Nothing would surprise me. If he’s healthy, and it appears that he is, then nothing would surprise me.
“The flip side is he’s had some physical ailments and didn’t pitch last year and obviously he hasn’t performed at that level in quite a while. I think we go ahead and let him get ready for the season and see where it winds up.”
In their primes, Suzuki and Lincecum were undersized marvels: Both 5 feet 11 inches and less than 180 pounds, their bodies seemingly made of elastic. Suzuki slashed and dashed in one motion as he bolted from the batter’s box. Lincecum twisted and whirled and launched his body at hitters, an impossibly long stride helping generate extraordinary power.
Suzuki’s MVP rookie season in 2001 coincided with the last playoff appearance by the Mariners, whose postseason drought is now the longest of any team in baseball, the NFL, the NBA or the NHL.
Seattle traded Suzuki to the New York Yankees in 2012, and in the past five seasons he has hit just .263. This version of Suzuki may not help much, but the nostalgia is palpable.
“Everywhere you go, people love him,” second baseman Robinson Cano said, who played with Suzuki on the New York Yankees. “He’s the man here. The things that he did here, it was something I don’t think anybody’s ever done.”
The résumé is remarkable, indeed: In each season from 2001 through 2010, Suzuki collected at least 200 hits while batting above .300, winning a Gold Glove and being named an All-Star. He has 3,080 hits in the majors and 1,278 in Japan.
“Last year, in the second half, he hit pretty good,” Hernandez said, referring to Suzuki’s .299 average for the Miami Marlins after the All-Star break. “I tell you, man, he’s not going to come over here and not produce. He’s going to hit.”
The Mariners have a spot for Suzuki because Ben Gamel, another left-handed-hitting outfielder, may miss six weeks with a strained oblique muscle. Another starter, first baseman Ryon Healy, had hand surgery last month, and Hernandez is just now throwing again after being struck on the pitching arm by a line drive on Feb. 26.
It is an ominous start for the Mariners, who used a franchise-record 61 players last season and slumped to 78-84 amid a barrage of injuries. The Rangers had the same record, and signing Lincecum fits with an offseason pitching strategy that was both modest and aggressive.
The Rangers traded for starter Matt Moore, a former All-Star who struggled for the Giants last season. They signed reliever Mike Minor and will use him as a starter, a role he last filled for Atlanta in 2014. They signed veteran starters Doug Fister and Bartolo Colon, plucked reliever Chris Martin from Japan, and plan to give reliever Matt Bush a chance to start in a rotation that could, at times, include more than five pitchers.
“We knew we had to add from the outside, and looking at it from a budget standpoint, we tried to spread our dollars out a little bit,” Daniels said. “We needed bang for our buck. We needed guys who have the opportunity to be better than their acquisition cost might suggest.”
That also includes Lincecum. Hip problems dulled his effectiveness for the Giants, and a 2016 cameo for the Los Angeles Angels produced a poor 9.16 ERA in nine starts.
But Lincecum, who attended the funeral of his older brother Sean last weekend, rediscovered his fastball this winter through training at the Driveline pitching facility near his Seattle home, bumping his velocity from 86 mph to the 90-93 range.
Lincecum thrived as a reliever in the 2012 World Series against Detroit, but his greatest moment came two years before — in Arlington, Texas. In Game 5 of the 2010 World Series, Lincecum throttled the Rangers for eight innings to win the clincher.
“When I spoke to him on the phone before he signed, he apologized for it,” Daniels said. “It wasn’t a very sincere apology.”