Wedge hints that Ichiro’s No. 3 role could change
Mariners manager Eric Wedge noted Sunday that the veteran position players he’d been counting on have not been producing this season and the weight is shifting even more to young players to carry the offensive load. He also spoke for the first time about possibly moving Ichiro out of the No. 3 spot in the order.
With Chone Figgins and Brendan Ryan both struggling and Franklin Gutierrez and Miguel Olivo on the disabled list, Wedge is left with little choice but to build on a young core of players.
The one veteran in the middle of the lineup is Ichiro, but Wedge notes “he’s not a prototypical three-hole hitter” and hinted for the first time Sunday that Ichiro’s role could change when and if some of the younger players show they’re ready to handle that challenge.
“We don’t have any veteran guys doing anything right now,” Wedge said. “It’s as simple as that. So I can’t say it any plainer. We’ve got 6-7 guys we’re starting today that are 25 or younger. The young guys are going to have to do it, because the veteran guys aren’t getting it done. There’s just no way of getting around it.
“You look at all the other Major League teams and they’ve got at least one guy, if not two or three, that they can count on as veteran guys who are experienced big-league hitters. So our young guys are going to have to step up and do it. I have no problem saying that. And I believe they can. But it’s just harder without having that guy, or a couple guys ideally at this level.”
As for Ichiro? The 38-year-old is hitting .288 and ranks third on the team with 13 RBIs. His .388 slugging percentage is up from last year’s .335, but not anywhere near what is expected from a No. 3 batter in a typical lineup.
“He’s not a guy that’s going to be doing a lot of damage,” Wedge said. “He’s going to get his hits and hopefully he gets his hits at the right time. Where he ultimately ends up, we’ll see. But right now, that’s where he is and we have to work to get these young hitters going who profile better for different areas of our lineup. But they’ve got to get themselves going and be more consistent.”
Wedge left the door open to move both leadoff hitter Dustin Ackley and Ichiro at some point this season.
“I don’t know where either one of them will end up,” he said. “It depends on what the supporting cast does because I feel like all of them have a lot more upside. They’re just so young. Whether Ackley ends up 1-2-3, whether Ichiro ends up 1-2-3 or somewhere else, we’ll see. It just depends on what we see production wise.
“Ichiro is by no means your prototypical three-hole hitter, but that’s where we need him right now. And when it comes to the point in time where we feel we need him somewhere else, that’s when we’ll do that.”