Ichiro, dropped from the leadoff spot, said he has mentally prepared for the move. "I'm ready to pitch too. So, like I said, anything is possible," he said.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Ichiro had sensed all winter long that his days as a leadoff hitter for the Mariners were done.
So, when the team told him late Monday that he’d be the No. 3 hitter when the season opened, the Japanese star took it in stride. Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, after the team announced the move, Ichiro said he’d mentally prepared for it and shouldn’t feel too different once Cactus League games begin late next week.
“Anything can happen in this game, it’s not just leading off,” he said, through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “That’s the fun part about this game. Like I tell you (media) guys all the time, I’m ready to pitch too. So, like I said, anything is possible.”
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The Mariners will give Chone Figgins first crack at replacing Ichiro in the leadoff spot. Dustin Ackley will be the No. 2 hitter for now, but manager Eric Wedge said those two spots are subject to change depending on what happens the rest of spring training.
Ichiro endured the worst season of his major-league career in 2011, posting a .310 on-base percentage (OBP) that ranked lowest of any leadoff man in the game with at least 400 plate appearances. He failed to reach 200 hits for the first time in his career — falling 16 shy after reaching the 200-mark on 10 previous occasions — and his .335 slugging percentage was the worst of any regular major-league right fielder.
The No. 3 spot in the order is generally where teams put players who can hit both for average and power. Ichiro has employed a wider batting stance since the start of camp, but shrugged off questions about whether he would try to hit for more power out of his new spot.
“The way I’ve always performed, even when leading off, you go out there wanting to hit a home run when you know that it’s the right time,” Ichiro said. “So, that will not change.”
Nor did he widen his stance in anticipation of the lineup switch. Instead, he said it was merely out of a wish “to perform better.”
Wedge had contemplated shifting Ichiro out of the leadoff spot as early as last June. But Figgins was struggling at the time and later suffered a torn hip labrum that pretty much scuttled the rest of a horrible season in which he hit .188.
Now, with Figgins healthy again — and still owed $18 million over the final two years of his contract — the Mariners have told him he’ll play daily and mostly at third base in a bid to revive his career.
In his first Seattle season in 2010, Figgins managed to overcome first-half struggles in the No. 2 spot and finished with a .259 average and .340 OBP. The Mariners would like to see a revival of his days with the Angels, where he posted a .298 average and .395 OBP as a leadoff hitter in 2009.
“I’m confident that Figgins can get back to his old self as a leadoff hitter,” Wedge said. “That’s when he was the Figgins that produced, that got on base, that scored runs. That was really a pain for opposing teams when he did lead off for Anaheim. I feel like to give him the greatest chance to get back on track and succeed, is to give him that opportunity leading off for us.”
Figgins had already left for the day when the team confirmed he’d be the leadoff hitter for now. Earlier this week, he said he’s looking forward to playing healthy this year and would be more likely to revert to his patient, pitch-taking approach of the past if placed in the leadoff role once again.
Wedge said he spent all winter contemplating the Ichiro move and keeping in touch with him about his thoughts so that it wouldn’t come as a surprise.
“I feel like the bottom line is for us to have the best lineup, one through nine, out there,” Wedge said. “I want our lineup to be extended. I feel like our best opportunity to score runs is with Ichiro hitting third for us. It helps the guy in front of him, it helps the guy behind him.”
The guy now hitting directly in front of Ichiro, second-year regular Ackley, said he hasn’t changed his approach as the team has moved him around the order.
“I’ve tried to develop the same approach every time,” Ackley said. “If a situation arose, I’d definitely move a runner over. That changes things, but that’s the same if you’re hitting sixth or seventh and a guy gets on. For me, I’m not going to try to change anything, wherever I hit.”
Ichiro said pretty much the same thing, adding that the situation would only change if runners get on base in front of him — not because of what spot he’s batting in. He couldn’t say how Figgins might perform in his place, but added that “we all have to hope this is the right thing for the team. And if this is it, then we’ll have to give it our best and play to our performance (level).”
• Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan was kept out of throwing drills again on Tuesday as he continues to work his way back from a neck injury suffered last season. Ryan said he expected to begin throwing on Wednesday for the first time this spring.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners
|This would be the first time in his career that Ichiro will bat somewhere regularly other than the leadoff spot.|
|2011 season statistics|