By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
NEW YORK — Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge has defended players and chided them this season, tried to motivate them and moved them up and down his lineup.
Chone Figgins, Miguel Olivo, Brendan Ryan, Justin Smoak — they’ve all been the topic of discussion at one point or another in 2012, usually when Wedge is asked about the Seattle Mariners inconsistent offense.
On Sunday, he talked about another player: Ichiro Suzuki.
It began with a question about the young lineup he posted against veteran Andy Pettitte and the New York Yankees.
“Why is Smoak batting fifth?” Wedge said, repeating a question. “Because no veteran guy is doing anything — the young guys have got to do it.
“You look at every other team we’ll play, they all have two, three, four veteran guys in their lineups producing. That makes it much easier on the kids.”
Someone asked about Ichiro, who has batted third in Seattle’s lineup in each of its 36 games.
“Ichiro is not the prototypical No. 3 hitter,” Wedge said. “He’s not doing a lot of damage. Right now, it’s where he is.”
Exactly what was Wedge saying?
Since moving Ichiro from his traditional leadoff spot, the Mariners — and Wedge — have tried to find a role in the lineup that best serves the team and the player.
Batting third, Icihro has grounded into a team-leading five double plays, one more than Smoak. He’s scored 16 runs, one behind Dustn Ackley’s team lead.
Ichiro is not the prototypical No 3 hitter or leadoff hitter — he’s as likely to put the first pitch he sees in play as take four or five pitches. He can steal bases, but Kyle Seager has as many steals (3) as Ichiro, and Michael Saunders leads the team with four.
Yet Icihro’s on-base percentage (.333) leads the team, and his .288 batting average is second only to Seager’s .295.
There are hitters Wedge can try in the third spot — Seager, Carp, Liddi and others. Ichiro’s abilities are unique and occasionally maddening, but they’re likely best served hitting first in this lineup.
Second baseman Dustin Ackley walked and singled Sunday, extending his hitting streak to nine consecutive games and raising his batting average to .248. He’s not torrid-hot, but he’s warming up. … When Smoak homered in the fourth inning, it snapped a 55-at-bat homerless streak. His last long ball? April 12 against Detroit. … By beating Andy Pettitte on Sunday, the Mariners matched the Blue Jays for most victories against the lefty (12). Seattle is 12-11 vs. Pettitte, Toronto 21-12. … Lucas Luetge struck out lefty Curtis Granderson, the only batter he faced, and has tied Rod Scurry’s club record of 14 consecutive scoreless appearances at the start of his career. Luetge has pitched 92/3 innings. … Ichiro doubled to move past Frank Thomas and into 99th place on baseball’s all-time hit list (2,469). He’s three hits behind Ted Simmons — now one of Mariner general manager Jack Zduriencik’s special assistants — in 97th place.