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May 29, 2012 at 4:19 PM

Eric Wedge on possibly moving Ichiro out of No. 3 spot: “For me, everything’s on the table now”

Mariners manager Eric Wedge was asked by a reporter today about how much longer he plans to continue with Ichiro in the No. 3 spot in the batting order. Ichiro isn’t the biggest problem with this offense at the moment, but as I mentioned yesterday, he’s about the fourth best hitter on the team and is currently 37 percent below league average when it comes to his OPS+ (park factored on-base-plus-slugging percentage) as a No. 3 hitter.
“Obviously, it’s something you have to consider,” Wedge said. “But you’ve got to have a solution to it, too. I’m always considering almost everything. I weigh everything out, I look at our options, I look at the timing. I try to stay consistent with my thought process on different guys. On all of our guys.
“For me, everything’s on the table right now.”
I decided to jump in with a question at that point. Since Wedge has yet to move Ichiro out of the third spot, I asked him what he liked about having him in there.
“It’s just a matter of just giving him as much time as I feel like we need to give him,” Wedge said. “And also, you have to take into consideration who’s going to be your three-hole hitter and who’s going to hit fourth. So, you’ve got to take all of that into consideration as well. All of that enters into it.”
Ichiro last night came up with Chone Figgins on second base with one out and promptly chopped a ball back to the pitcher, who caught Figgins in a rundown between second and third. Part of Wedge’s biggest problem with Ichiro has been his inability to be productive at driving in runs. It isn’t just a matter of his hitting with runners in scoring position — a putrid .157 so far — but his overall lack of driving balls to the gaps.
His on-base percentage is down to .303, which is even lower than last year’s .310 that ultimatey got him moved out of the leadoff spot. His .670 OPS is nothing close to what a No. 3 hitter typically has.
And while the numbers show Ichiro is hitting line drives at a higher rate than last year — 25 percent versus 19 percent — it appears the majority of them are coming with the bases empty.
Ichiro has eight doubles with no one on base and only three with runners on. He does have three triples with guys on base, so that makes up for some of it and has accounted for a good chunk of his RBI total.
But when I think back to those doubles and triples with men on, the thing that stands out off the top of my head is that several were well-placed grounders that either shot past the first base bag or else were line drives that ping ponged off the side wall down the line.
I don’t remember too many gappers this year when there have been guys on base and that’s been a problem. When you don’t hit home runs, you need to find the gaps with frequency and he isn’t doing it.
Singles are nice and good for your batting average. But there’s a reason the No. 3 hitter tends to be the best hitter on a team. Your best hitters are guys who can hit line drives to the gaps and hit balls over the wall as well as singles.
Ichiro doesn’t do it. He’s grounded into eight double plays already with runners on — one of the fears about him moving to the No. 3 spot in the first place.
So, while Wedge may be worried about who can hande clean-up duties and other spots, the fact remains: he continues to employ a three-hole hitter in the middle of the order who can’t perform like a typical No. 3 guy. It’s one thing to complain about a lack of production in an offense. Quite another when you’re fixing all the problems around a particular spot while leaving one guy untouchable.
This is a glaring oversight that can’t be allowed to continue much longer if this team is going to maintain any credibility.
Photo Credit: AP

Franklin Gutierrez did some DH duty in extended spring training in Arizona today. He’ll play a few innings in the field tomorrow and then some more after a few days if all goes well. Then, the Mariners would ship him out for a minor league rehabilitation assignment by next week.
That 20-day rehab would get him back to Seattle by month’s end. Again, if all goes well.
The lineups:
2B Dustin Ackley
LF Alex Liddi
RF Ichiro
DH Jesus Montero
3B Kyle Seager
1B Justin Smoak
C John Jaso
CF Michael Saunders
SS Brendan Ryan
LHP Jason Vargas
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
LF Josh Hamilton
3B Adrian Beltre
DH Michael Young
RF Nelson Cruz
1B Mike Napoli
C Yorvit Torrealba
CF Craig Gentry
RHP Scott Feldman

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, Jesus Montero


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