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May 31, 2012 at 4:38 PM

Will Ichiro bat third for Mariners tomorrow in Chicago? No way

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One question I keep getting asked today is whether I think Ichiro will be back at the No. 3 spot in the batting order for the Mariners tomorrow night.
My answer? No way.
It has little to do with the fact that the Mariners scored 21 runs last night. That’s just unfortunate — well, OK, it was fortunate if you’re a Mariners fan — timing where Ichiro was concerned. Even if Ichiro had been in there and gone 0-for-5 with five strikeouts, the Mariners probably still would have scored 18 or more runs.
No, the reason why I would not put him back in is because Kyle Seager has seven hits his last two games, including four last night. Seager had two doubles and two singles in the 21-8 rout of the Rangers and missed a home run to deep right center by about two feet on a ball caught at the warning track.
That, my friends, is what you want in a No. 3 hitter. You want a guy who can drive the baseball.

Has the Mariners’ Justin Smoak turned things around at the plate?


Because when you can consistently drive the ball to the gaps — not necessarily over the fence — you will tend to cash in more baserunners. The guy standing on first base with two outs has a shot at making it home when Seager drives one to right center. That same runner merely advances to second base when Ichiro grounds one of his singles through a hole and the onus is then put on the next guy to do the run production work.
Ichiro no longer drives balls to the gaps with any frequency. He hits line drives, but often for singles with no one on base. Or, he notches extra base hits on grounders past the first base bag. Or on bloopers that catch outfielders out of position.
Sure, he still gets the odd hit on balls to the gap. But not frequently enough where the team can rely on it.
And that’s carried over with double harm to his numbers with runners in scoring position. For some reason, he’s been terrible in those situations this year. But again, it’s tough to expect him to be overly productive with RISP when he’s below average at hitting in general these days and especially at driving balls where they will eventually get to the wall.
I hesitated at great length about commenting on Ichiro today because any attempt to offer valid criticism of Ichiro is often met in Seattle with reference to his Hall of Fame stature and tales of what he still does on defense and used to do on offense. I get all of that, believe me.
But none of that is relevant to a discussion about whether Ichiro makes a good No. 3 hitter.
Right now, he is not. And right now, based on Seager being the best and most consistent hitter on this team in 2012, he should be hitting third.
Where should Ichiro go?
Further down the lineup. Somewhere between No. 7 and 9 in the order.
He should still be in the lineup most days, given his defensive contributions and decent batting average based on his ability to notch singles. But his on-base percentage is down to .305 for the season and really, it’s been at .238 the past three weeks. That’s not a guy you want at the top of the order.
Not when you’ve got Michael Saunders posting a .346 OBP over that same stretch. Saunders should be batting second tomorrow versus right-hander Jake Peavy.
Over the long haul? I’d like to see Saunders tested at the leadoff spot more because I still think Dustin Ackley better serves the team in the No. 2 or No. 3 spots.
But that might be too much radical lineup surgery for one day. For tomorrow, though, Seager should be hitting third and Ichiro should be bottom third.
If anything, this 21-run game makes things easier on Wedge. He’s been making noise about moving Ichiro out of the three-spot going on nearly three weeks. Now, after a lineup without him there scores 21 runs, who can argue with that call? It’s not a statistically relevant argument to make, but politically? Carries some weight.
And Ichiro has no reason to be upset by the move. Nobody is booting him off the team, or sitting him out like what happened with Ken Griffey Jr. The two cases are not the same. Griffey was done being a player who could make any useful on-field contribution to the team. Ichiro still has useful contributions he can make and he is still going to be playing almost every single day.
Just not in the No. 3 spot. That ship has sailed.

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