PHOENIX — Ichiro Suzuki was back in the starting lineup on Tuesday night and blooped a single to center field in his first at-bat to lead off the game for his 2,500th hit since he came to U.S. and signed with the Mariners in 2001.
He also pounded out 1,278 hits while playing in Japan.
“Yeah, 2,500 hits? That’s a great accomplishment,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said hours before his club’s rematch with the D-backs at Chase Field. “He’s a guy getting there quicker than most. It’s just a testimony to his consistency over his career.”
The 38-year-old Ichiro reached that plateau in the fourth fewest games. His 2,500th hit came in his 1,817th game. Al Simmons had 2,500 hits in 1,784 games, Ty Cobb in 1,790 and George Sisler in 1,808.
D-backs manager Kirk Gibson also said he has long been an Ichiro admirer.
“He’s a consistent player, but he has a total game,” Gibson said. “Offensively, defensively, he has power if he wants to. It’s amazing what he can do with the bat. He’s got all those hits. He gets down the line very quick. When Japanese players come up you can see a lot of Ichiro in them. He’s certainly set the table for them the way they play.”
Ichiro, though, has been struggling this year at the plate. His .255 batting average going into Tuesday night’s game was 78 points below his career mark of .323.
That’s one of the reasons he sat on Monday. It was the second time this year Wedge has decided to take the veteran right fielder out of the starting lineup to give him a breather. Ichiro has started in 67 of the team’s first 69 games.
Suzuki’s offensive output began to slip last year when he batted .272 with 184 hits, his first season in the Majors without 200 hits or more, snapping a Major League Baseball record of 10 seasons in a row.
Wedge tried to get Ichiro going this year by moving him to the No. 3 slot in the batting from his traditional leadoff position. When that didn’t work, Wedge shifted him back to the top spot. He has negligible power numbers with four homers and 23 RBIs.
Ichiro was not very happy about missing a game, the first since Wedge sat him at Texas on May 30. That one snapped a 150-game streak in which Ichiro had started every game.
“It’s not easy to be out of the lineup,” Ichiro said on Monday night after the Mariners lost, 7-1. “As a player you always want to be needed in the lineup.”
Wedge said it’s a balancing act, trying to manage the needs of a proud player against the needs of the club.
“I try to communicate with ‘Ichi’ as much as I can and be consistent with that,” Wedge said. “And I’m just open and honest with him. The three hole didn’t work out. Now we’re trying him in the one hole. We’re going to give him more time to get himself going there. That’s where he’s most comfortable. That’s where he’s had the most success. When you make a move like that you want to give it time.
“You never know. Today might be the day he clicks and then he rolls the rest of the way. We’ll see. Obviously he’s had his struggles the last couple of years. Hopefully he can find something and help us.”