JUPITER, Fla. — For the first time this spring, Miami Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki hit leadoff.
With second baseman Dee Gordon sitting out Friday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves at Roger Dean Stadium, the spot opened up in the order.
Pair that with left-hander Wandy Rodriguez on the mound, and manager Mike Redmond saw it as an opportunity for Suzuki to see additional pitches from a lefty. Over his 14-year MLB career, Suzuki has a better split against lefties (.330) than righties (.312).
"I’m just trying to get him at-bats," Redmond said. "It’s more that, not really the position. Trying to get those guys up at the top of the order to get them some at-bats. The great thing is we faced a couple lefties, so I’ve been able to get Ichiro and all our left-handed hitters some at-bats against lefties to see where we’re at there.
"I know Ichiro handles lefties really well. That’s a comforting thing during the season that when he pinch-hits and they bring in the lefty you don’t have to pinch-hit for him. He’s able to give you a great at-bat whether it’s a left-hander or right-hander out there."
It also offers Redmond a glimpse at a leadoff option should Gordon need a day off during the regular season. If it overlapped with Suzuki playing for one of the outfielders, he could be inserted into the leadoff spot. Suzuki is a .324 batter over 7,617 at-bats as the first batter.
Another possibility is Christian Yelich, who took over the role in 2014 when Rafael Furcal suffered a hamstring injury. In 139 games, Yelich hit .286 with 30 doubles, five triples, nine homers and 52 RBI.
"I know Ichiro can hit leadoff," Redmond said. "I know he can hit anywhere. It’s more about him getting at-bats, plugging him up there to get his three at-bats and get him out of here as quick as possible. I want him to face as many lefties as he can so he can get used to it. We’ve been able to do that over the last couple days. I know Ichiro’s going to hit no matter what spot we put him in the order. If he plays, could he lead off during the season? Sure. I know he’s capable of doing that easily.
"If Ichiro played on that day it could be him, but Yeli led off for us almost the whole year last year. He’s an option. (Adeiny Hechavarria) could hit up at the top of the order too against a left-handed hitter or something. Like I said, we have a lot of flexibility being able to move guys in and out."
IN THE AIR
Friday marked the only night game for the Marlins in Jupiter this spring. They will also play a 6:05 p.m. contest Friday in Kissimmee.
Redmond said going from a day to night matchup throws people’s schedules off. He still woke up around 4:30 a.m. but "just got to wait longer to go to the ballpark."
"I’d love to play a string of night games at the end of spring just to get guys adjusted to the night schedule, ’cause we go from all day games to all night games rather quickly," Redmond said. "I’m sure all the players would love to have that just to adjust."
Redmond, who underwent offseason Achilles surgery, threw his first round of batting practice this spring.