Wedge weighing non-leadoff options for Ichiro

Wedge weighing non-leadoff options for Ichiro

Wedge weighing non-leadoff options for Ichiro
SEATTLE -- Eric Wedge first brought up at the Winter Meetings in Dallas in early December the idea that Ichiro Suzuki might not be his leadoff hitter any longer, and the Mariners manager said Thursday he's now "further down the road in leaning that direction to have Ichi hit somewhere else."

Speaking at the Mariners pre-Spring Training media luncheon, Wedge expanded on his thoughts, saying Ichiro could bat second or third if he's not leading off. And he mentioned Dustin Ackley, Chone Figgins and perhaps a healthier Franklin Gutierrez as candidates to fill the leadoff role.

"I haven't made any firm decisions," Wedge said. "I know it's a big deal to everybody. But my job is to communicate that to Ichiro and make sure everybody understands the options and what they're fighting for and what I'm thinking about it.

"Right now, I'm going to be very open-minded to what we're going to do, but I'll go into Spring Training leaning a certain direction and then we'll make a decision from there."

Ichiro hit .272 last season and finished with 182 hits, the first time in 11 seasons he didn't bat .300, reach 200 hits or earn either an All-Star berth or an American League Gold Glove Award. He batted leadoff all 161 games he played last season, and for his career has led off 1,720 of the 1,733 games in which he's started.

"We've talked about the three-hole, I've contemplated hitting him second, there's still a chance he might lead off," Wedge said. "What we're going to do is put out the best lineup possible to score more runs. It's unacceptable the amount of runs we've scored the last couple years. Last year I sat back and bit my tongue off more than once. But it was the right thing to do. My wife was proud of me.

"This year it's going to be a little bit different. But you don't go from zero to 60. Now we have to let it out a little bit more and raise the bar and understand."

Wedge values on-base percentage in the leadoff role and Ichiro had a career-low .310 last season, well below the .376 mark posted his first 10 years in Seattle.

Ackley had a .348 on-base percentage in his rookie season after getting a midseason promotion from Triple-A, but hit third for the Mariners last year as a needed middle-of-the-order presence.

Figgins had a .395 on-base percentage and led the American League with 101 walks in his final season with the Angels in 2009, but has struggled since signing with Seattle and hit just .188 with a .241 on-base percentage in 81 games last year.

Wedge said Figgins will be given a chance to play second, shortstop and third base as well as all three outfield spots this spring in an attempt to find either a utility spot or a place that he might fit.

As for Gutierrez? Wedge previously has talked about batting the center fielder second, but isn't ruling anything out after seeing his improved strength this offseason.

"Gutierrez is interesting to me," Wedge said. "I've had him everywhere from first to second to more of a power production at six and seven. But after seeing him this winter, I'm thinking more middle of the lineup. He looked that good."