Struggling M’s not moving Ichiro out of leadoff

No matter how sick the Seattle Mariners’ lineup remains manager

Don Wakamatsu is not going move Ichiro Suzuki out of the leadoff

spot.

Wakamatsu on Tuesday shot down one of the loudest calls from a

frustrated fan base: to move the nine-time All-Star and

major-league record holder with five seasons of at least 220 hits

into more of a run-producing role.

Yet the manager did acknowledge his struggling team has

discussed that move with Suzuki. The career .333 hitter entered

Tuesday’s series opener against Detroit second in the American

League with a .352 average.

“He’s the most consistent player we have. Take him out of that

(spot), then maybe he changes,” Wakamatsu said minutes after he

wrote onto the lineup card that Suzuki was batting leadoff for the

925th consecutive time.

The Mariners were 5-16 and had scored three runs or fewer 13

times this month entering Tuesday, mostly wasting a month’s worth

of outstanding starting pitching while falling to last place in the

AL West, 8 1/2 games behind Texas.

They had scored two runs in 21 innings since a startling, 15-run

outburst Friday against San Diego.

They have no true No. 3 hitter. Franklin Gutierrez, known more

for his graceful defense in center field, moved into the spot

following a hot and powerful start – and after Casey Kotchman

flopped there. But Gutierrez entered Tuesday 8 for his last 54

(.154) with one home run, five RBIs and 17 strikeouts in 15 games

since May 6.

The last time Suzuki hit other than leadoff was June 23, 2004,

when he batted third at Texas.

That was at the end of a 10-game span in which then-manager Bob

Melvin batted Suzuki No. 3. The Mariners went 6-4 then, but Suzuki

batted just .270 – 102 points below his career-best average from

that season. He had no home runs and just two RBIs in the prime

run-producing spot.

“He’s been a leadoff man for nine, 10 years and been very

successful,” Wakamatsu said of Suzuki, who ranks third in Mariners

history with 1,471 games played and had 2,094 major-league hits

entering Tuesday. “It’s hard to pull ‘Ichi’ out of a spot he’s

excelling in, and has excelled in his whole career.

“It’s really about the guys around him.”

Such as Chone Figgins, who has resorted to repeated push bunts

on Seattle’s homestand in failed efforts to scratch out a hit.

“A logical option would be to hit him ninth, but we’re not

comfortable with that right now,” Wakamatsu said. “Believe me,

we’ve talked about it with both of them.”

Instead, Wakamatsu will continue to ride out the slumps of

Figgins, .211-hitting Jose Lopez and .222-hitting Milton Bradley –

who returned last week from two weeks away undergoing emotional

counseling.

The manager doesn’t have many options. His five-man bench

Tuesday included .186-hitter and 40-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. and

recently awakening Mike Sweeney. Those two fading stars are

essentially the same guy: a designated hitter who is limited if at

all usable in the field. The backup catcher was .172-hitting Rob

Johnson, who has had trouble with passed balls and just lost his

job to recent Triple-A call up Josh Bard.

So, absent a move of Suzuki, the manager is left to hope for a

rebound to something approaching Figgins’ career average of .287,

and more than the three home runs combined Bradley and Lopez have

in the middle of the lineup.

That hope increased when Bradley homered Tuesday night for the

first time since April 13, in the first inning, and Gutierrez

homered in the sixth.