The last four games, Ichiro has had two hits in each contest to go 8-for-17. He’s hit five line drives and seven flyballs during those four games — totalling 12 at-bats in which he hit something other than a grounder.
Over his eight prior games — twice as many — he’d totalled only 11 at-bats with something other than a grounder.
Ichiro over the last four games has had at least one line drive in each contest. Prior to that, he did not have such a stretch of consecutive games with at least one line drive.
The news that he appears to be squaring the ball up with more authority is quite welcome for a Mariners team that struggles to score at the best of times. And the more line drives and fly balls he hits, the less opposing infielders will be able to cheat in on him to turn his groundballs into outs instead of the infield singles he’s used to garnering.
The Mariners are still only two games out of first place despite winning just three times in the past nine games. Nobody seems to want this AL West title just yet. That will probably change, but the poor play throughout the division has bought Seattle some time to sort out offensive woes.
And getting Ichiro right has to be first and foremost.
That’s what happens with a team’s best paid player. The Angels probably won’t win the division unless Vernon Wells starts to do more of what he is capable of. And being out-hit by Chone Figgins isn’t what Wells does best.
Believe me, Wells has heard all about it from the media in Anaheim and the fans.
And in Ichiro’s case, at $18 million per season, if he goes six weeks with a sub-.200 batting average, he’s going to hear about it. Unlike Wells, Ichiro doesn’t have an injury excuse to fall back on.
So, the sight of Ichiro returning somewhat to “normal” the past four days is big for the Mariners, who spent a ton of this year’s on-field payroll — nearly one third of it — on the salaries of their leadoff man and Figgins. They did not spread the money out nearly as evenly in other parts of the roster, so, for this offense to work, Ichiro and Figgins need to produce.
Doesn’t matter what Ichiro did the past nine years. Or what Figgins did with the Angels.
This is about 2011 and the Mariners trying to stay in a playoff race.
Did Ichiro’s day-off the other day have anything to do with it? Maybe it did and maybe it didn’t.
But we can conclude one thing. It didn’t hurt anyone in the least.
And that’s the way good teams — and even bad ones — tend to operate. When a guy struggles for six weeks, you give him a day off every now and then. It’s not rocket science. Even in Seattle, even with a Mariners franchise that for years has been pre-occupied with all things political despite a lack of championship rings.
Here’s a revolutionary concept to consider going forward.
Sit Ichiro out in a few more games, even if he’s going well. Treat him like Brendan Ryan, Miguel Olivo, Jack Cust and all other players who actually have contributed since April to the Mariners evolving from another 100-loss team to a current .500 club only two games out of first place.
Give the 37-year-old leadoff hitter some “pre-emptive” rest so that he can stay physically strong enough to maintain his good pace for the final 3 1/2 months of the season. And if he struggles again? By all means, sit him down.
Stop playing politics. Start playing baseball. This team needs the Ichiro who finally showed up the past four games. Needs the real Figgins as well. The real Cust and a whole lot more.
But it starts with your highest-paid player. Without Ichiro, the season is already done.