Mariners right fielder, who endured a bad year by his standards, told a Japanese paper he was desperate in 2011, but blaming decline exclusively on age was “lame.”
In the latter stages of the 2011 season, when it became clear that Ichiro Suzuki’s remarkable streak of 10 consecutive seasons with 200 hits would come to an end, the Mariners right fielder adamantly refused to discuss it. Nor did he offer any insight into the situation once the season ended.
But now Ichiro has confessed to Japan’s Nikkan Sports newspaper that he felt “mental stress” last season and is still struggling to find reasons for his sudden drop in form.
“I felt desperate last season,” Suzuki told the newspaper. “That doesn’t happen to me very often. Mental stress is a lot worse than physical stress.”
After 10 consecutive years of 200+ hits (2001-10), Ichiro finished 2011 with 184. He also failed to hit .300 for the first time (.272) and posted career lows in on-base percentage (.310) and OPS (.645). In addition, Ichiro failed to make the American League All-Star team for the first time and did not win a Gold Glove for the first time.
“If I can get two or three hits every day, I never feel tired,” Ichiro told the newspaper.” One hit relieves my stress, it’s better than an hour of massage.”
As Ichiro struggled, many critics speculated that age had caught up with the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer. Ichiro admitted that he paid attention.
“Sometimes I feel I’m getting older, or more sensitive to what they say on TV,” said Ichiro. “Yes, my skin gets dry but it’s a lame conclusion to blame everything on age. People are quick to point to age. Those kinds of people don’t interest me. But if you are going to call yourself a professional, you need to put up results.”
Ichiro actually had a scorching start to 2011, leading the American League with 39 hits in April. But it turned out to be the only month he hit .300 or better.
“I didn’t feel good at the plate but I continued getting hits in April,” said Ichiro, who has played on five Mariners teams that lost 90 or more games (67-95 last year). “It was the most difficult start (to a season) I could think of. It’s hard to judge in April if what you’ve been working on in spring training was right.
“I thought I was right because I was getting hits, but it takes time to work out what went wrong. There was a gulf between my stats and the way I was feeling. It’s almost impossible to tell yourself ‘This is wrong!’ when things are going so well.”
Ichiro, who is entering the final year of a four-year contract and is scheduled to earn $17 million in 2012, has been linked by Japanese media to the general manager’s job at his former club Orix. Ichiro had no comment on that.