Ichiro ready to play his way into Marlins' lineup

In great shape, 41-year-old is contending for time behind young outfield

Ichiro ready to play his way into Marlins' lineup

JUPITER, Fla. -- Finding enough at-bats for Ichiro Suzuki is going to be one of Marlins manager Mike Redmond's challenges this season. But if the early signs of Spring Training are any indicator, the 41-year-old outfielder appears primed to make a case to be on the field.

Ichiro, as expected, is in tremendous shape, and he's already impressed the organization with his preparation, bat speed and overall skills. There isn't much noticeable decline as he enters his 15th MLB season.

Redmond has already announced Ichiro will start in right field on Tuesday in the exhibition against the University of Miami at Roger Dean Stadium. Giancarlo Stanton will be the designated hitter in that game. All the regulars are expected to play an inning or two and get one at-bat.

Ichiro finds himself as the savvy veteran behind one of the National League's best young outfields. Miami will stack up the trio of Stanton, left fielder Christian Yelich and center fielder Marcell Ozuna with anyone.

Ichiro on leading young Marlins

That leaves Ichiro in a wait-and-see role.

"It probably depends on how the other guys are feeling, health-wise," Redmond said. "But the beauty of the National League is we can utilize him as a pinch-hitter. There's ways to get him an at-bat almost every night, whether he's in the starting lineup or not."

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Ichiro is approaching some magical milestones. He is 156 hits shy of 3,000, and he has 4,122 professional hits, counting his nine seasons in Japan. Pete Rose's MLB record is 4,256 hits.

"One of the things we like about Ichiro is he's got such a short swing," Redmond said. "It should be ideal for coming off the bench. If we just need a base hit or a guy who can get on base. He's very capable of doing that. As far as how much he's going to play, that's probably to be determined."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.