PEORIA, Ariz. – Chone Figgins is a fan of the familiar. It’s one reason he decided on Seattle as a free-agent destination after leaving the Angels –same division, time zone, pitchers and cities on the road.
Even the coaching staff had several familiar faces from his days in Anaheim.
But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a season of big changes for the 32-year-old. Figgins is playing second base instead of third for the first time in years. A career leadoff hitter who led the American League with 101 walks last year and has stolen at least 20 bases for six straight seasons, he’s hitting No. 2 in the order behind Seattle icon Ichiro Suzuki.
“It’s different. There is definitely an adjustment period to all the changes,” said Figgins. “None of this is a surprise. I signed while they were still trying to figure out what to do with (Adrian) Beltre and I told them I was open to the idea of playing second. I’ve been there and done it.”
Beltre wound up going to Boston, but the Mariners decided to move second baseman Jose Lopez to third for his stronger arm and install Figgins, with more range and quickness, at second. So far, both players seem OK with the move, although it’s open-ended.
“Once we got here it was good because they talked to me and Lopez at the same time about it,” Figgins said “(General manager Jack Zduriencik) said, ‘You know what? If you go at it 100 percent and it doesn’t work out, at least we tried.’ But it’s been going pretty good, so we just have to stay with it and trust it. If it’s not good for us, it’s not good for the team. But right now it’s going good.”
There have been hiccups. Figgins had two errors over a three-batter stretch in Saturday’s loss to San Francisco, when the hard and fast infield at the Peoria Sports Complex caught up to him. But Lopez seems to be settling in at third and manager Don Wakamatsu, who is stressing defense, likes the dynamics of the new infield.
Coach Mike Brumley worked with Figgins in Anaheim and said second base is a natural fit.
“I think it’s a normal position for him,” Brumley said. “The Angels had a need at third and it worked out, but second really fits his body type and his athleticism as a player. He can make plays that can change innings because of his speed, leaping ability and awareness of the hitters and where the ball is probably going.
“He played so many positions early in his career, he’s knows them all. And he’s such a calm hitter offensively. He can pour more energy into his defense.”
At the plate, Figgins is enjoying the No. 2 spot and hitting behind Ichiro although he can’t take his time getting ready in the dugout.
“I try to beat him to the on-deck circle, because I know he’s swinging,” Figgins said with a laugh. “When I got here (Ken) Griffey told me he won’t be up there long.
“We have totally different approaches. For me, it’s about seeing pitches. When I get pitches in the zone, I put good swings on them. I need to keep focused on staying in the zone. If I do things like that I’ll get more consistent at-bats. My pitches per at-bat are going up and that’s a good sign for me.”
His selectivity is improving with age. Figgins never had more than 65 walks in a season before drawing 101 last year, and even though he didn’t have a hit for the first 11 days of spring training his on-base percentage was over .400. He likes seeing more pitches from the stretch from pitchers keeping tabs on Ichiro on first base.
“It gives me so many different options – bunt, hit-and-run, steal, hit behind him and there are more pitches to drive in the gap,” said Figgins, who hit .291 last year. “We’re going to get on base, and when we do we’re going to create some havoc.”