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Wedge puts Ichiro back in leadoff spot

Mariners manager moves Seager to third in batting order

CHICAGO -- When Mariners manager Eric Wedge made out his lineup card for Friday night's game against the White Sox, for the first time this year he penciled Ichiro Suzuki into his familiar leadoff role.

The experiment of trying the 38-year-old in the No. 3 spot in the order ended after 52 games, with young third baseman Kyle Seager now batting third.

And that was just fine with Ichiro, who went 1-for-4 with a stolen base during Friday's 7-4 loss to the White Sox in his first game back atop the order.

"After leading off 11 years in my career here in the States and this year [hitting third] for almost two months, it's different," Ichiro said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "But being back in the leadoff is very comfortable. 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."

Wedge had waited to see if Ichiro might take off in the No. 3 spot, but that never really happened.

"I wanted to make that move now," Wedge said. "We're a couple months into the season. I want to put [Ichiro] in the best position to succeed. I think to get him back to leadoff, where he's had the most experience and is the most comfortable, that's the best way to do it. If he can get himself going up top, it's only going to help us as a ballclub."

Wedge's initial hope was to give Chone Figgins a chance to jump-start himself in the leadoff role and also to get the team's best veteran hitter in the middle of the order for a team that had finished last in the American League in scoring for three straight years.

But Figgins didn't produce -- he's batting .182 with a .254 on-base percentage -- and now is back to a utility role, while Ichiro wasn't much of a run producer in the third spot. Although his .270 batting average is second on the team, he's fifth in RBIs with 17 and his .363 slugging percentage is ahead of only shortstop Brendan Ryan among regular Mariners position players.

Seager, 24, leads the team with a .283 batting average, .483 slugging percentage and 31 RBIs.

Wedge indicated Ichiro was fine with the switch when he told him it was coming before Wednesday's contest in Texas.

Seager hit third in that game and went 4-for-6 with two doubles, two RBIs and four runs scored in Seattle's 21-8 victory. He entered Friday's contest 7-for-11 with four doubles in his last two games, which made it easy for Wedge to put him back in the No. 3 spot with previous leadoff hitter Dustin Ackley hitting second.

"I want Ackley and Seager up there," Wedge said of his two young hitters who went a combined 3-for-6 with a double, a a home run, three runs scored and three RBIs during Friday's loss. "I think Ackley can hit 1, 2 or 3 and Seager has been our best run producer, so I wanted to get him in the three-spot. Really we could go Seager-Ackley, or Ackley-Seager. I feel good enough about both those guys, but I think this is the best way to do it for right now."

Ichiro has started in 1,784 Major League games in his 11-plus seasons in Seattle, with 1,720 of those as a leadoff hitter. He hit second in three games in 2002 and batted third 10 times in '04 and then the first 51 games this season.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
Read More: Seattle Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki, Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley