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Notes: Ichiro working past April woes

Notes: Ichiro working past April woes

SEATTLE -- Ichiro Suzuki has reached a level that Mariners fans rarely have seen. Having been accustomed to his offensive excellence, it's has been strange watching him struggle in April.

The two-time batting champion and all-time season-hit champion, Ichiro is hitting just .182 through six games. Entering Saturday's game against Texas, he had gone hitless for three straight games (0-for-13) for the first time since July 4-7, 2006. He has had six three-strikeout games in his six-plus seasons in the big leagues, but two of them came over the previous three games.

"When you don't play a game for four or five days, it's harder to create timing," said batting instructor Jeff Pentland on the team's five postponed games last week. "You can have a great swing, but if you're a little off timing-wise, it's tough."

Ichiro started the season fine. He hit .400 (4-for-10) on the first homestand then literally chilled for the next five days. All four of the Mariners' games in Cleveland were snowed out. They played two in Boston, but the third game was rained out.

"He's had a couple tough games," Pentland said. "But what I see is Ichiro. He's still right there. He has told me that he has had some struggles in April, but once he gets on it, he's pretty good. Obviously, before we got on the road, he was going good."

Ichiro has said that he uses the first month to find his rhythm, and some years it takes longer to know where it is. Statistically, the first month is his toughest. He carries a .295 career average in April. That's good for anyone else, just not for the seven-time Japan League batting champion.

He follows that with a career .373 average in May, his best month. The next four months are still well above his April numbers: .330 in June, .343 in July, .316 in August and .322 in September/October.

"I wasn't here when he got the 262 hits [in 2004] to break the hit record," manager Mike Hargrove said, "but from what I read and heard, he didn't hit real well in April and May either. He's a great hitter. He's a great player. He'll be OK. Sometimes it takes a while to get going."

Ichiro began his record-setting season in 2004 with just a .255 average in April. He followed that with .400 in May, then back to .274 in June. He finished the final three months hitting .423.

"Ichiro is one of those players that you have to give him some rope," Hargrove said.

Pentland added that "the strikeouts are unusual for him." He has eight already. At this pace he would finish with more than 200. He has never had more than 71 strikeouts in a season.

"Everyone in the league throws him in. He knows that," Pentland said. "The key for me is to make sure he stays on the plate inside. Sometimes when you get pounded in so much, you start swinging at balls off the plate, which God can't hit.

"No one works better or more consistently than he does. That's what so impressive about him."

Offensive woes: As far as the rest of the offense is concerned -- beyond Ichiro -- Pentland said that he's not overly concerned with the Mariners' league-low .211 batting average.

"I talk to the guys every day," he said. "They're very upbeat about what's going on. Their approach has been very good. They're not wild in the strike zone. Things that you can control, they're doing a very good job at. We just need a lot of hits with men in scoring position."

Those five idle days in Cleveland did nothing for the hitters' timing, much less their confidence. They could work in the cages as often as they wanted, but they had nothing to measure themselves against. They needed live pitching.

"We're not panicking at the plate," Pentland added. "We've hit some balls good, but we have put a string together. It's tough to hit home runs this time of year. But our attitude has been solid all year. They all understand."

Johjima rests: Despite three hits on Friday night, catcher Kenji Johjima did not start on Saturday afternoon against the Rangers. Backup Jamie Burke made his first Mariners start.

"Jamie needs to play," Hargrove said. "Even through Joh hit well [on Friday], it's going to pay dividends down the road."

Johjima leads the team with a .412 average. He had reached base safely in his last six plate appearances and eight of his last nine.

Burke, 35, was a great spring camp story. The veteran of 15 pro seasons, he had seen some time in the big leagues with the Angels and White Sox, with 73 at-bats overall. This was his first Major League appearance since May 5, 2005, and his first start since Oct. 2, 2004. He double and scored in the third inning.

Mariners' log: Entering Saturday's game, the Mariners were one of just two teams (along with the Nationals) without a stolen base, and they were the only one without so much as an attempt. It's the first time in club history the team did not have at least one steal through six games. ... Felix Hernandez has thrown 17 innings of shutout baseball to open the season. The team record is 17 2/3, set by Mark Lowe last season.

On deck: The Mariners finish their three-game series with the Rangers with a 1:05 p.m. PT game on Sunday. Left-hander Horacio Ramirez (5-5, 4.48 ERA in 2006) doesn't have an official statistic yet, because his only start on April 6 was snowed out after 4 2/3 innings. He will be opposed by right-hander Brandon McCarthy (1-1, 3.75).

Bob Sherwin is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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