Pujols one shy of 3,000 as Angels face Mariners

Fans at Safeco Field won’t get to see an Ichiro SuzukiShohei Ohtani showdown this weekend.

But they might get to see the Los Angeles AngelsAlbert Pujols reach a career milestone.

The possibility of a Suzuki-Ohtani matchup ended Thursday, when the Seattle Mariners announced the veteran outfielder from Japan will transition into a front-office role.

“I have nothing but the utmost respect for (Suzuki),” Ohtani said in a statement released by the Angels. “What he has done for this game, our country and the fans. I wish we could have played against him, but it wasn’t meant to be. Wish nothing but the best for him moving forward.”

Ohtani, the two-way sensation, missed a pitching start Tuesday against Baltimore with a left ankle sprain but has been in the batting lineup as the designated hitter. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen session Friday. If all goes well, he could start the series finale Sunday in Seattle.

Pujols, who got his 2,999th career hit Thursday night against the Orioles, made his major league debut on April 2, 2001, the same day as Suzuki. Pujols, then with the St. Louis Cardinals, was named the National League Rookie of the Year that season, while Suzuki received the American League’s award.

“Pretty special player to be able to do what he did in the States,” Pujols said. “Don’t forget about what he did in Japan, those years that he played there. Pretty unbelievable. A better person than a player. Great human being. Let’s see what he’s going to do next. I don’t think he’s done yet. He might be done for this year, but I think he might have a second shot coming up next year.”

Indeed, the 44-year-old Suzuki insisted he’s not retiring.

“When I start using a cane, that’s the time that I think I should retire,” Suzuki said.

The Mariners open next season in Tokyo against Oakland, with expanded 28-man rosters allowed for the two-game international series.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Suzuki suited up for those games, but he seems at peace with whatever happens.

“The past two months have been the happiest I’ve been,” he said. “I knew the day would come when I would have to walk away. But the Mariners have given me this opportunity to stay on. Obviously with my teammates and how great they’ve been and how much they mean to me and how much I want to help is the reason I wanted to stay on and help in any way I can.”

Suzuki will be a special assistant adviser for the Mariners, although he still took part in batting practice Thursday.

“This doesn’t close the door on Ichiro’s playing career, I’d like to make that clear,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “We intend that whenever is the appropriate time for Ichiro to retire, that that will happen as a Mariner. But we don’t think we’re at that point yet either.”

Friday night’s series opener will feature Angels right-hander Garrett Richards (3-1, 4.88 ERA) going against Mariners right-hander Mike Leake (3-2, 6.48). Richards is 5-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 18 career appearances (10 starts) against the Mariners. Leake is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two career starts against the Angels.