As much as other hitters have improved, Ichiro, returned to the top of the order, and Dustin Ackley, moved to No. 2, still aren’t igniting the offense.
The second half of Wednesday’s game in Anaheim did more than provide the Mariners a winning record at the end of a tough road trip.
It gave some evidence that the club may yet get the kind of jump from the top of the batting order that manager Eric Wedge was counting on when he scrapped his early season plans after the first three games of the trip in Texas.
Wedge spent the first two months penciling in Ichiro Suzuki as the No. 3 hitter, and the last month having Dustin Ackley leading off. In an effort to get Ichiro going — he was hitting .271 at the time – he returned the right fielder to the leadoff role he owned for his first 11 seasons in Seattle, dropping Ackley to second and installing Kyle Seager as the new No. 3 guy.
How did it go?
Ichiro hit a couple of solo homers in his second game back at the top of the lineup, then went hitless in his next 20 at-bats. Of those, 14 times the ball never left the infield.
As for Ackley, he was hitting .251 with a .691 OPS when the move came down, In the six games since, he’s at .217 and .661.
Those numbers were augmented by the second half of Wednesday’s game. Ackley was 0-for-2 and sitting on a 1-for-15 skid when he dropped a fifth-inning double to left that allowed Ichiro, safe on an error, to get to third. Both scored on Seager’s double.
Ackley walked in the sixth and singled in the eighth.
Ichiro opened some eyes with back-to-back solo homers to open Saturday’s game against the White Sox, then went into the second-worst skid of his big league career.
His breakthrough came in the sixth Wednesday with two on and two out and the Mariners down 6-4. He singled home one run, then scored, after an Ackley walk, when Seager singled two runs home.
Next time up, in the eighth with the Mariners clinging to a one-run lead, Ichiro hit his third homer of the trip. If he’d hit those homers while batting third, well, he’d still be batting third. As it is, in his first six games batting first, his average has dropped a dozen points to .259.
What the Mariners need to know now is whether the Ichiro and Ackley performances at the top of the lineup Wednesday are the start of an upward trend. Wedge is known for his patience, but he can’t afford to have the top two spots in his batting order as unproductive as they had been starting in the second half of Wednesday’s 8-6 win.
“It was good to see Ichiro get himself going again,” Wedge told the media after the game. “The RBI single was a big hit for us. And his home run made a one-run lead a two-run lead.”
The late contributions by Ichiro and Ackley meant the Mariners turned what could have been a decent 4-5 road trip into a good 5-4 trip against quality competition. The Mariners had three games each against two first-place teams, the Rangers and the White Sox, and one second-place team, the Angels.
More significantly, the club went 2-1 in Texas, the first series win for Seattle in Arlington since September 2010. And they went 2-1 in Southern California, the first series win for the Mariners since May 2010.
Four wins against the two teams in front of them in the AL West meant that the Mariners, who started the road trip 10 games out of first in the West come home 7.5 games back. It’s still a sizable gap, but a little more manageable.
It doesn’t get any any easier for Seattle, which had Thursday off, and now dives into interleague play against the Dodgers with a weekend series at Safeco. At 37-21, Los Angeles owns baseball’s best record.
To put a dent into the Dodgers, Seattle needs to get things started at the top. This weekend at home, where the Mariners have hit poorly, will be a big test for the switch.