Mariners eye Figgins in two-hole
Chone set to shine batting behind Ichiro in order
It's not so much a question of who's on first for the Mariners this season, but who bats first.
And if recently acquired switch-hitter Chone Figgins, one of the premier leadoff hitters in the Major Leagues last season, has anything to say about it ...
"I think I am a better two-hitter," he said, "and with Ichiro [Suzuki] leading off, I think it would make us a better team."
That could be music to manager Don Wakamatsu's ears as he prepares for Spring Training and the regular season.
After Figgins signed a four-year, $36 million contract, one of the decisions facing Wakamatsu was at the very top of the lineup. Who bats first, Ichiro or Figgins?
Both of them are eminently qualified.
Ichiro batted .352, with a .386 on-base percentage while batting leadoff last season. He also hit 11 homers and scored 88 runs, the first time in his nine-year career with Seattle that he didn't score at least 100 runs. He led the Majors with 225 hits.
Figgins, meanwhile, batted .298 with a .395 on-base percentage, hit five home runs and scored 114 runs, the second-highest total in the American League. He led the AL with 101 walks.
When asked during the pre-Spring Training media luncheon last week who the leadoff hitter would be, Wakamatsu said, "It would be my right fielder. We'll go into Spring Training thinking that.
"But if Ichiro says to me that it's time for him to move [to another spot in the lineup] or that he wants to try and hit more home runs, we'd be open to that."
Ichiro has batted in the leadoff spot in all but 13 of his 1,397 games with the Mariners, while Figgins has been positioned anywhere from first (644 starts) to ninth (94 games) -- including one game as the cleanup hitter.
The cleanup hitter?
"I won a bet with [Angels manager Mike Scioscia]," Figgins smiled. "Before a game [in 2006], he told me that if I got a bunt hit he would let me hit fourth in the next game. I ended up getting a bunt hit."
Figgins batted cleanup the following night, went 2-for-4 and drove in two runs.
"I still have the lineup card," he laughed.
The only spots in the lineup that Figgins never has batted are fifth and sixth. He has 135 starts batting second, posting a .303 average and .368 on-base percentage.
"I don't get a lot of infield hits," he said. "I am more of a line-drive hitter. Ichiro gets all kinds of hits and me hitting behind him allows me to protect him if he runs and still have the ability to get on base so both of us can run. The work I have done over the past couple of years in becoming more patient as a hitter fits in well here.
"I mean, somebody who gets that many hits, you can't move them to somewhere else. That's why they are as good as they are."
That is, unless someone asks to be moved.
Ichiro has batted in the No. 3 position 13 times in his career, going 18-for-51 (.353) with three doubles and three RBIs.
But he's always been at his best being first, becoming the first player in MLB history to have nine consecutive 200-hit seasons. Ichiro needs one more to tie Pete Rose for the all-time 200-hit season record.
"For me to hit second, behind Ichiro ..." Figgins said dreamingly. "I am really looking forward to it. I am interested in seeing what his work ethic is like off the tee and soft toss, his mental preparation before each game.
"I wonder what it takes to be that good all the time, year after year after year. I can't imagine how Tiger Woods, or somebody like that, can have the mentality to be that good all the time. Ichiro is like that and I just want to see how he goes about preparing for a game."
Class begins in less than a month.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.