Ichiro may be out of Mariners' leadoff spot this season

SEATTLE — For 11 seasons in Seattle, Ichiro hitting out of the leadoff spot has been a Mariner fixture. That's where he's been for 1,722 of his 1,749 games. But that may be about to change.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge said Thursday at the club's annual pre-spring training luncheon that he is "leaning" toward hitting Ichiro in another position in the batting order.

Wedge cautioned that this potentially significant development is not final. But at the end of last year's disappointing season by Ichiro, in which he hit a career low .272 — his first time under .300 since 1993 — the manager had cautioned that it was no guarantee Ichiro would return to the leadoff spot.

Wedge has had more time to think about it since then, and here's where he stands:

"I haven't made any firm decisions. I've made it very clear over the course of the winter I'm thinking about it. I'm even further down the road to where I'm leaning in that direction to have Ichi hit somewhere else.

"I know it's a big deal to everybody. I can't get caught up in that. My job is to make sure I communicate that to Ichiro, make sure everyone understands what the options are, and what they're fighting for, and what I'm thinking about. That's what I'm going to continue to do.

"Right now, I'm going to be very open-minded to what I'm going to do, but I'm going to go into spring training leaning a certain direction."

Wedge said he hasn't decided yet who would hit first if Ichiro doesn't, nor where Ichiro would land in the batting order. But he has some ideas about both decisions. He said Dustin Ackley and Chone Figgins are "the first two that come to mind" when it comes to leadoff, with Franklin Gutierrez a possibility.

As for where Ichiro would hit, "We've talked about the three hole, I've contemplated hitting him second, and there's still a chance he might lead off. Ultimately, it's not just about Ichiro; it's about our club, and it's about his 24 other teammates. Ichiro understands that. I damn sure understand it.

"What we're going to do is make sure we put out the best possible lineup to score more runs. It's not acceptable the amount of runs we've scored the past couple of years. Last year, I sat back, and I bit my tongue off more than once, but it was the right thing to do. My wife was proud of me, let's put it that way. This year's going to be a little different, but you don't go from zero to 60."

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