06/02/12 4:20 PM ET
Ichiro 'comfortable' back atop order
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
"Naturally, being used to leading off for 11 years, this is just normal," Ichiro said after Friday's game, his first back in the top spot in the order. "So that is how I feel. We don't know yet, obviously, how the future will turn out. That's how I feel for the moment."
Speaking through interpreter Antony Suzuki, Ichiro indicated he was looking for a spark from his return to the role he's filled for 1,721 of the 1,786 games he's started over 12 seasons with Seattle.
"Being back in the leadoff [spot] is very comfortable," he said. "It feels like getting back to my own spot. There was no hesitation. We started the season a couple months ago, but now is like a second start for me. And it's a refreshing start as well."
Ichiro is hitting .271 with a .303 on-base percentage, both slightly below last year's .272 and .310 marks that were the lowest of his career. His slugging percentage of .389 is up from last year's .335, but both are well below his career .420 mark.
Felix treated for sore back, expected to start
CHICAGO -- Mariners ace Felix Hernandez received treatment on his sore back Saturday, but manager Eric Wedge said the expectation for now is that he'll be ready to make his next scheduled start Wednesday in Anaheim.
"He'll have limited activity and stay inside [during pregame work]," Wedge said. "He still feels it a little bit."
Any concern over his next start?
"I don't think there's any concern for that right now," Wedge said. "Hopefully he feels better at the end of the day today and coming in tomorrow."
Hernandez "tweaked" his back in the second or third inning of Friday's 7-4 loss to the White Sox. Wedge pulled him after the fifth inning, trailing 4-0, though Hernandez wound up with a no decision when Seattle tied the game back up in the eighth.
Trainer Rick Griffin checked on Hernandez throughout the game and felt there was no problem in letting him continue, but Wedge pulled the right-hander when his pitches started getting up in the fifth and the White Sox hit back-to-back home runs.
Hernandez said the back wasn't the problem after the game, but that his fastball command again was an issue. He's 1-3 with a 6.14 ERA in his last five starts.
"I love that he feels that way," Wedge said. "We want all our players to take full accountability, but reality is sometimes there are physical issues involved, and I think that is the case with Felix. I know there have been times this year when he's unhappy with himself, but that's part of being a great pitcher and self-evaluator, too.
"You're not always going to be perfect, and you're not always going to be great. But you have to recognize when you're not so you can get back to that level and I think he does that as well as anybody."
Smoak continues trend of hot hitting
CHICAGO -- When Justin Smoak was struggling earlier this season, he frequently noted that when things are going rough, even hard-hit balls somehow seem to wind up in defenders' gloves. So naturally, the opposite was true Friday night when he got a single on a high pop-up that traveled all of about 5 feet, but eluded the grasp of White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
"I honestly didn't expect that to be a hit, but it is what it is," Smoak said with a smile.
All hits look the same in the box score, where Smoak went 2-for-3 after adding a sharp RBI single to right in the eighth inning of the 7-4 loss.
The big first baseman then went 2-for-6 with a home run in Saturday's 10-8 victory. He's raised his average from .173 to .241 over the past 20 games by hitting .333 (27-for-81) with seven home runs, 19 RBIs and 10 runs scored.
He's hit five home runs and 14 RBIs in his last eight games and said it feels good to continue building on his recent run of success.
"That's always the goal, to keep that feel, keep grinding it out, keeping having good at-bats, and I feel like I'm doing that," Smoak said. "I just need to keep going from there."
Gutierrez begins rehab in Triple-A Tacoma
CHICAGO -- Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez reported to Triple-A Tacoma on Saturday to begin his Minor League rehab stint as he continues his return from a series of injuries that have sidelined him since early in Spring Training.
The plan was for him to be at designated hitter for Saturday night's game against Sacramento at Cheney Stadium, then play in center field on Sunday, according to Mariners manager Eric Wedge.
Gutierrez, 29, partially tore the pectoral muscle in his right chest during a spring workout and began the season on the disabled list. During his recovery from that injury, he began dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right heel and was unable to run for several weeks.
But the 2010 Gold Glove winner began running and hitting with the Mariners last week in Seattle, then played in extended spring training games in Arizona this week. He's now ready to begin his official Minor League rehab, which allows a maximum of 20 days before he must be recalled by the Mariners.
Wedge said Gutierrez will need all or most of those 20 days with the Rainiers, given he's missed so much time.
"He's going to need a majority of them," said Wedge. "He hasn't had that constant repetition at a higher level for a long time. He's going to need some time down there."
Gutierrez played only 92 games in 2011 after missing the first few months with a digestive issue and the last month with a strained oblique muscle.
• The Mariners have used five different leadoff hitters so far this season (Dustin Ackley 26, Chone Figgins 24, John Jaso 2, Ichiro 2, Michael Saunders 1). Seattle used only two leadoff hitters last season (Ichiro 161, Figgins 1), and has not used this many leadoff hitters in a single season since six in 2002 (Ichiro 150, Mike Cameron 5, Mark McLemore 4, Luis Ugueto 1, Desi Relaford 1, Jose Offerman 1).
• Michael Saunders' two-base error on Paul Konerko's line drive in the eighth inning of Friday's 7-4 loss led to three unearned runs. In the first 53 games of the season, the Mariners had allowed just 10 unearned runs. They remain second in the AL in fielding percentage at .989.
The ball deflected off Saunders glove, hitting him squarely below the right eye. Anything still hurting Saturday?: "Just my pride," Saunders said. "This game can humble you in a hurry."
• Kyle Seager is batting .336 with a .929 OPS on the road this season and .200 with a .616 OPS at Safeco Field.