OAKLAND -- All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is on pace to break the franchise's single-season stolen base record, a mark that has been held for more than 20 years by Harold Reynolds. That doesn't surprise Rich Amaral, the former Mariners basestealing threat and current part-time baserunning coach. "Nothing Ichiro does surprises me," said Amaral, who is with the team during its four-game series against the Athletics in Oakland.
But Amaral's eyebrows move upward a little when asked about the sparcity of stolen bases from shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who has just one steal in three attempts this season. Betancourt, after all, was one of Amaral's premier projects during Spring Training, when former manager John McLaren had high hopes of increasing the team's stolen base prowess. "I think Yuni is capable of stealing bases," Amaral insisted. "The hard part about Yuni is that we are trying to teach him how to steal bases at the Major League level. There is so much are stake here than if you were in the Minors. You can't practice stealing bases, and trying to learn at the big league level is very difficult. You are supposed to be developed before you get here, but he's so good at everything else, that's why he's here. "It would have been better for him if we had done this kind of thing four years ago. He is making up for lost time, and it's difficult. When you try to steal bases and don't succeed, you can take the team out of innings, so I understand why he has been reluctant." The Mariners have played 47 games this season that were decided by one or two runs. Three of the last four games all have been one-run affairs, so conceivably, an unsuccessful stolen-base attempt could be the difference between winning and losing, putting that much more pressure on a runner eager to swipe a base. Though not a speedster by any means, Betancourt has enough speed to become a 20- to 25-theft player at some point during his career. He stole 11 bases in 19 attempts during his 2006 rookie season and was 5-for-9 last season. Amaral, who lives in Southern California, says he has been encouraged by the way Betancourt has been studying the opposing pitchers, getting to know them better. Ichiro, meanwhile, had 34 steals in 37 attempts going into Wednesday night's game against the Athletics and needs just four more to surpass last season's total. His career high in the Major Leagues is 56, set during his rookie season in 2001. The single-season club record is 60, set by Reynolds in 1987. Willie Bloomquist, who stole a career high 16 bases in 19 attempts two years ago, but only seven in 12 attempts last season, has been almost perfect so far this season, going 8-for-9. "What I like," Amaral said, "is to talk to guys like Bloomie, [Miguel] Cairo and Adrian [Beltre] and hear what they say about the stuff they have picked up from watching the pitcher. Every good basestealer tries to find something the pitcher does that helps them get a better jump." Overall, the Mariners are 62-for-79 in stolen-base attempts this season, compared to 81-for-111 last season, and have the second-best success rate in the American League. The Mariners have been successful 78.5 percent of the time, compared to the 79.4 (50-for-63) success rate by the Athletics.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.