Branyan moved up to two-hole in lineup
Usual No. 5 hitter shifted to bat behind red-hot Ichiro
SEATTLE -- In the Mariners' seemingly never-ending quest to get their offense going, they turned to a somewhat unlikely source on Tuesday night to bat in the No. 2 hole: their usual No. 5 hitter, Russell Branyan.
Branyan brings serious credentials to the spot after Ichiro Suzuki in the Seattle lineup. Going into Tuesday's game against the Orioles, he had hits in eight of his last 10 games (.375, 12-for-32) to raise his batting average to .319, which is 13th in the American League.
His on-base percentage of .412 entering Tuesday is easily the best on the team, and he was also light years ahead of anyone else on the Mariners in slugging percentage with a .606 clip. The fact that he happened to be leading the club with 11 home runs also is significant, although manager Don Wakamatsu said the Branyan experiment in the No. 2 slot is more about situations.
Not to mention Ichiro.
"The idea is that it puts a lot more pressure on an opposing team to pitch to him," Wakamatsu said.
"As well as Ichiro's hitting right now, you're not going to want to walk [Branyan]. The two-hole's been a big struggle for us this year. We'll take a look at this. We're getting the two best hitters on our club right now up there right away."
Wakamatsu said ideally, Ichiro would lead off Tuesday's game with a hit -- and get his franchise-record-setting hit in his 26th consecutive game out of the way -- and the Mariners would have the immediate threat of going up, 2-0, on one swing of Branyan's bat.
"I think it puts a decision in [the opposing pitcher's] hands, especially if Ichiro's on base with nobody out," Wakamatsu said.
Branyan fouled off a bunt on the first pitch of his at-bat in Monday night's seventh inning, but Wakamatsu said it was not a warm-up for the first baseman's impending role.
"Overall, am I going to ask him to bunt in those situations like I asked other guys [who hit second]?" Wakamatsu said. "Absolutely not."
The theory behind Branyan batting second is that he'll get more protection from the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, who, on Tuesday night, were Adrian Beltre (.227 batting average) and Ken Griffey Jr. (.208).
But with the Mariners ranked last in the American League in runs and on-base percentage through Monday, maybe it was starter Jarrod Washburn who said it best when told of Wakamatsu's latest lineup shift.
"Sounds good to me," he said. "We've got to try something to get going."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.