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
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
“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
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.