© 2010 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

05/01/10 3:11 PM ET

Ichiro heats up as Gutierrez hits skid

SEATTLE -- Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki has found his groove offensively, going 10-for-20 in the Mariners' last four games to raise his average to .344. In Friday's 2-0 loss to the Rangers, he posted his second straight 3-for-5 game.

"One thing he did in Kansas City, and started in Chicago, was he bunted a couple of times, got some infield singles, and that gives him a little more breathing room to swing the bat a little more aggressively," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "He just has so many weapons. That's why you don't worry about him."

Ichiro now leads the team in batting average, as the previous leader, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, has gone hitless in his last 11 at-bats and struck out seven times in two games. That stint has dropped his batting average from .371 to .326, and Wakamatsu attributes the skid to Gutierrez trying to do too much at the plate.

"He's basically been our most consistent player," Wakamatsu said. "When you go 11 or 12 innings, and no one else is hitting, he wants to end the game with one swing. That's immaturity."

Mariners closing in on healthy rotation

SEATTLE -- The Mariners got two steps closer to filling out their starting rotation on Friday, as Cliff Lee made his debut and Erik Bedard threw 55 pain-free pitches in the bullpen, according to manager Don Wakamatsu.

Bedard played four months in 2009 before suffering a torn labrum in his left shoulder that required season-ending surgery, and Wakamatsu pegged the end of May as the best-case scenario for his return.

"He looks better than before," Wakamatsu said. "It looks like his arm is a little freer, and he's not putting as much stress on it. We're pretty excited about that, and we think he is, too. It's one thing to get him back. The second part is to try to keep him from the injuries recurring."

In 15 starts last season, Bedard went 5-3 with a 2.82 ERA. He allowed two or fewer runs in 13 of those outings.

Wakamatsu said that Bedard will likely throw another bullpen session before moving to simulated games, and he added that Bedard would probably need more than one rehab start in the Minors before returning to the rotation.

Situational hitting plagues Mariners in defeat

SEATTLE -- Situational hitting has been a thorn in the Mariners' side all season, and Friday's 12-inning loss to the Rangers provided some perfect examples.

Ichiro Suzuki -- the only Seattle player with more than one hit in the game -- reached second base with no outs in the first but was stranded. In the 11th, Ichiro was tagged out trying to steal home plate after a missed squeeze-bunt attempt by Eric Byrnes.

The Mariners blew bases-loaded chances in the 10th and 11th innings, but the squeeze play was the easiest chance for the win. Manager Don Wakamatsu said that Byrnes didn't think he could get a bat on the low-and-outside pitch, so he pulled it back.

In hindsight, Byrnes admitted that he should have made an attempt, anyway, and the mistake clearly upset him. He left the clubhouse on a bicycle Friday night before most of his teammates had even finished showering.

"He knew that getting that [bunt] down wins us a ballgame, and he didn't do it," Wakamatsu said. "But I don't question why he went out of here early. He was upset with himself."

Wakamatsu attributes the team's struggles to a combined lack of confidence and too much focus on batting averages. Only two Mariners are hitting above .250.

Mariners can take command of division race

SEATTLE -- As the smallest division in baseball, the AL West is a tight-knit bunch.

After Friday's games, the division's four teams were separated by just a half-game. The A's and Angels lead the way at 12-12, while the Mariners and Rangers are tied at 11-12, and Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu expects more of the same as the season rolls on.

"I do think it's going to be a very close race all year long," he said. "I haven't really had a chance to see [the Angels] play this year, other than Spring Training, but Texas has done a nice job with [its] pitching, and there are a lot of similarities, especially between us and Oakland: pitching and defense. Texas has a more potent offense, in general. I think it's up for grabs."

The Mariners have a chance to gain some separation in their current series with the Rangers, and when hosting the Angels next week, but a matchup with the Rays -- owners of the best record in the majors at 17-6 -- looms between the division clashes.

Worth noting

Cliff Lee became the second pitcher in Mariners history to throw at least seven scoreless innings in his club debut. He allowed just three hits, and manager Don Wakamatsu said that Lee was feeling fine on Saturday morning, showing no ill effects of the abdominal strain that kept him out for most of April. Russ Swan is the other Mariner to accomplish that feat. He threw an eight-inning shutout in his debut on June 9, 1990, against Detroit. Lee's eight strikeouts are also third-most in a Seattle debut, trailing Andy Benes and Enrique Romo, who had nine apiece.

Mike McCall is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.