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Notes: Ichiro gets rare day off

Notes: Ichiro gets rare day off

ARLINGTON -- On the sixth day of a seven-day road trip, Ichiro Suzuki rested.

For the first time this season, the Mariners started a game without Ichiro batting first and playing center field.

With the thermometer hovering above the 90-degree mark once again, and a long stretch of games ahead, Ichiro stepped aside for a night and Adam Jones made his first start in more than a week.

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Until Saturday night, Ichiro had been the only Mariner to play in the first 126 games this season. A "day off" for him came in the games he was used as the designated hitter.

Manager John McLaren also rested Yuniesky Betancourt on Saturday night. It was the first game the shortstop didn't start since July 8, and it was his fourth day off of the season. Both players were available for pinch-hit and/or late-inning defensive duty.

"In fact, Ichiro told me, 'I'm ready to pinch-hit,' and in the right circumstance, that's a nice trump card," McLaren said. "I always like it when you rested one of your big boys, you could use them any time you want to. If the situation presents itself and we need him, I'll use him."

But not having the name "Ichiro" at the top of the lineup card posted in the clubhouse looked strange.

"It was different putting together a lineup without [Ichiro] in it," McLaren said. "We always had this designed that he would DH and have a [scheduled] off-day the next day, and he would come to me when he needed a full off-day. He came to me a couple of days ago and said he thought Saturday would be a good day.

"The same thing with Betancourt, so this gives Jones and [Willie] Bloomquist a chance to play, and we'll rest a couple more [Sunday] night. It's pretty warm out there, and it takes its toll on you. Joh [catcher Kenji Johjima] definitely will be off."

Keeping the regulars reasonably fresh during the final five weeks of the regular season ranks high among the team's top priorities, especially Ichiro, who is having a typical Ichiro season.

Going into Saturday night's game against the Rangers, Ichiro led the Major Leagues in hits with 188, ranked second to Tigers right fielder Magglio Ordonez in batting average (.357 to .354), needed to score six more runs to reach 100 for the seventh consecutive season, had stolen 36 bases in 38 attempts, and had not made an error.

He has been the Mariners' Iron Man for several years, missing just 16 games since becoming a lineup fixture in 2001.

McLaren basically left the lineup the way it has been -- inserting Jones into the leadoff spot and batting Bloomquist ninth, where Betancourt usually bats.

"I could have gone either way, but led Adam off," McLaren said.

Trivia challenge: The Mariners are assured of having a winning record in August, the first time that has happened since 2001. What is the franchise record for most wins in August?

Hut, hut: Football season is in full bloom long before the first pitch is thrown in just about any Mariners game these days.

As a way of getting their pregame running in, Mariners pitchers -- and sometimes some of the position players -- go out onto the field about 3 1/2 hours before gametime and catch small footballs thrown at them by bullpen coach Jim Slaton and assistant trainer James Clifford.

"It's a change of pace, more or less," Slaton said. "When I played, we called them 'football passes,' but we used a baseball. Now, we throw a football to them and they have fun doing it."

A slight tear in his rotator cuff limits the distance and velocity Slaton can throw, but the players still get a good workout, running imaginary pass-catching routes.

"We don't do anything crazy, no diving for balls or anything like that," he said. "If the pass isn't right there, let it go."

Among his observations:

Best hands: "George Sherrill. He's a good athlete."

Most speed: "He just left, John Parrish. He went all out, just like when he was pitching."

Worst temper when he drops a ball: "Sherrill."

Worst hands: "Eric O'Flaherty, but he's getting better."

Favorite to run into the ground: "Brandon Morrow, because he doesn't wasn't to do this, but does it because others do it."

A real yawner: After commenting about Friday night's game between the Yankees and Tigers that lasted into the wee hours of the morning (3:30 a.m. ET) on Saturday, McLaren was asked if he watched the last part of the game on TV in his hotel room.

"The only team I would watch at 3:30 in the morning is our own," he quipped.

The answer is: The record-breaking team in 2001 won 20 of their 116 games that amazing season in August. The '07 version went into Saturday night's game with 15 wins and seven games remaining in this August.

Expansion looms: Before the first pitch is thrown in Monday night's series opener against the Angels at Safeco Field, the Mariners will have discussed potential callups for the final four weeks of the regular season. General manager Bill Bavasi and his staff, along with McLaren, will have a meeting during the day to talk about which Minor League players will join the team after Sept. 1, the date when MLB rosters can be expanded to as high as 40. Seattle is most likely to add about five players, including a catcher and probably two or three pitchers that would be available in any blowout games.

On deck: The four-game series ends Sunday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, with left-hander Jarrod Washburn (9-10, 4.11 ERA) opposing the Rangers and right-hander Vicente Padilla (3-8, 6.30). First pitch is scheduled for 5:35 p.m. PT, with temperatures in the low 90s.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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