DETROIT – Ichiro Suzuki was probably more surprised than anybody that he actually got a real day off.
Mired in a six-week slump, his batting average down to .252, a 10-time all-star, age 37, who’s played in 1,651 of the last 1,684 regular season Mariners games, watched part of Friday’s contest from the dugout as his team beat Detroit. From about the third inning on, he went underneath the stands and hit off a tee, figuring he’d be called on late.
But that never happened. Ichiro said he appreciated the full-time break as he prepares to tackle one of the bigger challenges of his career.
“Every challenge is big and every accomplishment I overcame was big,” Ichiro said, through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “This is another one. But I feel this time, I’m being tested. This is something that I need to overcome. And not just as a baseball player … it’s about overcoming that as a human being.”
He knows plenty of work lies ahead if he’s to end the worst slump of his career. Since May 1, he’s batting .189 with a .245 on-base percentage while looking unusually shaky in right field.
And he wasn’t surprised when manager Eric Wedge told him after Thursday night’s game that he’d sit Friday for the first time since August 2009. But what did surprise Ichiro was that Wedge didn’t call on him late.
“When you talk about our skipper, he’s very firm,” Ichiro said. “His feelings will never change. And more than my will, I think I felt his will stronger than ever.
“Because in (Friday’s) situation, it was a tight ballgame and I thought I would be in there. But after saying I would get a day off, he completely gave me a day off.”
And that’s something Ichiro has rarely received.
“Now, I know how he truly feels, so from here on, when he truly gives me a day off, I’ll just sit on the bench all day long,” he said.
Ichiro laughed at that statement, clearly a joke for a player who makes it a point to always be prepared.
Wedge said Ichiro is “a human being” and needed a mental and physical break.
“If you look at what he’s accomplished the last 10 years and the consistency he’s had in regard to playing, he’s earned the benefit of the doubt,” Wedge said. “He’s earned the right to go out there and play a little bit longer than some of the other guys. … But ultimately, I’m the manager and I’ve got to do what I feel like is best for him and the ballclub.”