DETROIT -- Ichiro Suzuki was back at his familiar spot atop the Mariners' lineup on Saturday after a rare day on the bench. Manager Eric Wedge said he considered keeping Chone Figgins in the leadoff role, after he looked better in a 2-for-4 effort there on Friday, but instead stuck with his normal batting order.
Figgins, hitting .193, will hit eighth against the Tigers in Saturday's 4:05 p.m. PT game. Ichiro has been in the leadoff spot in the Mariners' batting order since June 23, 2004, when he batted third against the Rangers for manager Bob Melvin.
"Yeah, you give it a thought. Of course you do," Wedge said of pondering the switch. "But if you take Ichiro out of the leadoff spot, then you've got to put Figgy or somebody else in there. And what I don't want is to make that move and then in a week or two or even a month from now feel like I have to make a move back.
"I don't think we've got other guys who are far enough along right now for me to make that move. And I'm also hoping that with Ichi having the off-day [on Friday], that will help him. So let's take that for a spin first, with him in the same spot, and go from there."
Ichiro, hitting .252 after a 13-for-87 stretch since mid-May, said after Friday's game that he really didn't relax during his rare day off. He'd started 255 consecutive games until Wedge sat him down.
"Actually, from a player's standpoint, you don't want to shut it down," Ichiro said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "You want to be ready. That's something we all need to have in our heart, to be prepared."
Ichiro acknowledged he's going through one of the biggest challenges of his career, but indicated it's not the time to be making major changes in the approaches that have always worked for him in his career.
"There are many answers. There is not just one answer to this game," Ichiro said. "That's the tough part. We have to keep ourselves balanced in this game, good and bad.
"It's not about the end result yesterday or the end result tomorrow; it's all about mentality. That's why you want to keep the same basic approach to your game and not let that sway. Because if you do, then you'll start to run into big issues."
Ray coming back strong in bullpen
DETROIT -- As a former closer with the Orioles, Chris Ray relishes late-inning, high-pressure situations. But the Mariners reliever, who is enjoying a growing role in the Seattle bullpen as the season progresses, says he's ready and willing whenever manager Eric Wedge needs him.
Ray got off to a slow start this season, but has been on the money lately with 11 consecutive innings without an earned run allowed in his eight outings since May 4. He is 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA over his past 10 appearances since April 23, lowering his ERA from 16.88 to 5.40.
On Friday, Ray picked up his third win of the season with a perfect sixth and seventh innings in relief of starter Erik Bedard, who threw well but lasted just five innings due to a high-pitch count. Ray said the key for a reliever is being prepared for anything.
"I learned a long time ago, when I was a rookie -- I think I was setting up for B.J. [Ryan] and the phone rang in the second inning, and it was for me," Ray said. "Ever since then, they always say, 'Be ready to be ready.' And that's the way I am. I get my stretching in early, and I'm ready to go whenever the phone rings."
After a lengthy period in which he pitched only in low-pressure situations, as Wedge waited for him to build up strength, Ray welcomed the opportunity to come into a tie game on Friday. But he says it's all good this season, after making the Mariners as a non-roster invitee.
"That was kind of a tougher situation than I've been pitching in, but I keep the same mindset, no matter what inning I pitch," Ray said. "Doing that allows you to keep yourself under control and your emotions in check, no matter whether it's a tie ballgame or you're up eight runs."
Pitching coach Carl Willis noticed a hitch in Ray's delivery early in the season and suggested he stay taller in his delivery and eliminate a rocking-back motion before he goes forward. The results have been impressive.
"I'm getting a little more leverage on my pitches, [am] able to locate my fastball and [am] getting that little extra hop on it that I wasn't getting at the beginning of the year," Ray said. "And I've got a little extra life on my slider. Before, it was just kind of floating, and for the most part, it's a lot sharper and [is] a pitch I've been getting guys out on."
Rookie outfielders supplying some spark
DETROIT -- Manager Eric Wedge had Ichiro Suzuki back in the lead-off spot on Saturday after a day's rest, but kept rookie outfielders Carlos Peguero and Greg Halman in the lineup for a second consecutive day, giving center fielder Franklin Gutierrez the day off against Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer.
Peguero was close to being sent down to Triple-A Tacoma on June 2, but he hit a pair of home runs, buying himself some extra time to show what he could do. And the big youngster from the Dominican Republic has made the most of that opportunity, hitting .429 (9 for 21) with nine runs, three home runs, five RBIs and a .520 on-base percentage in the seven games since.
The 6-foot-5, 247-pounder has also reduced his troublesome strikeout rate, with no whiffs in five straight games, and has been making needed adjustments on the frequent offspeed offerings that stymied him earlier.
On Friday, Peguero became just the third Mariners rookie ever to hit a home run and triple in the same game, joining Bret Boone ('93) and Ruppert Jones ('77).
Halman also has played well enough to work his way into the lineup, hitting 7-for-15 in his first four starts. Halman was in center fielder on Saturday, while Peguero manned left field.
Wedge said Gutierrez needed a day off, as he returns from the stomach issues that kept him on the disabled list for the first six weeks of the season. He'll be back in the lineup on Sunday against the Tigers' Rick Porcello, said Wedge, as will designated hitter Jack Cust.
Mike Carp also figures in the left-field mix, but he's DH'd in three of four games since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma.
"I want to keep looking at the kids, but I still want to get Custy in there as much as I can," Wedge said. "Because I know if he does get it turned around, he can be as hot as anybody in the game. He's proved that before, so we'll keep picking and choosing his days."
That's the balancing act Wedge is managing at the moment, weighing the desire to get youngsters in the lineup against not giving up on some key veterans, though he noted those veterans have had time to show what they can do.
"We are 2 1/2 months in, and that's a good period of time for a big league season," Wedge said. "We haven't given up on anybody, but we want to take a look at these young kids. They bring a certain degree of athleticism, talent and power, and so we're trying to work that balance."
Brandon League converted his ninth consecutive save opportunity on Friday, giving him an American League-leading 18. Since blowing three save situations in a row, he's gone 9-for-9 while not allowing a run on just four hits, one walk and five strikeouts over 10 innings.
When Ichiro was held out of Friday's game, his 255-consecutive-game streak stood as the third-longest in franchise history. Ichiro already holds the Mariners record of 396 consecutive games from July 11, 2004, to Sept. 23, 2006. Second on the franchise list is Edgar Martinez at 293. Raul Ibanez ranks fourth at 243, followed by a 227-game streak by Ruppert Jones.
The Mariners have had eight rookies play this season, tied for third most in the American League behind Kansas City (11) and Minnesota (9). Peguero, Halman, Carp and Michael Pineda are the rookies current on the roster. Tom Wilhelmsen, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes and Mike Wilson played earlier this season.
The Mariners, who face a right-handed pitcher in their next five games, have the best record in the American League against righties at 26-19. They're 7-12 against southpaw starters.