SAN DIEGO -- The last thing Don Mattingly expected when he took over this year as manager of the Marlins was this Ichiro Suzuki renaissance.Ichiro sprints out infield singles, ranges into the right-center field gap to grab line drives, gets on base five times in a single game with three
SAN DIEGO -- The last thing Don Mattingly expected when he took over this year as manager of the Marlins was this Ichiro Suzuki renaissance.
Ichiro sprints out infield singles, ranges into the right-center field gap to grab line drives, gets on base five times in a single game with three base hits and a pair of walks.
He did all this in Monday night's 13-4 Miami shellacking of the Padres at Petco Park.
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Ichiro walk? He strolled 31 times in 438 plate appearances last season. With 42 of the 65 hits he needed, he's already only 23 away from 3,000, just one away from tying Pete Rose's Major League record of 4,256 hits. To get there we must add Ichiro's 1,278 hits playing for the Orix BlueWave in Japan's Pacific League.
But a big league hit is a big league hit. And by the way, he's batting .350, the last time he did that on any sustained basis was 2009 when he finished that season hitting .352.
To repeat, it's the last thing Donnie Baseball expected.
"Him hitting .350, are you kidding me?" Mattingly said. "When we started the season I was worried about getting him enough at-bats. I was worried that he'd get the 65 hits. I don't know if he's getting a spark as he gets close to this, but I'm sure he is. It's a lot of fun for me to watch."
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Mattingly now has to deal with the temptation of deviating from his game plan. He doesn't want to play Ichiro too much. He'll probably bring Ichiro off the bench on Tuesday night against tough Padres left-hander Drew Pomeranz and play him on Wednesday against fill-in starter Luis Perdomo.
Mattingly rested Giancarlo Stanton and his .192 batting average in favor of Ichiro on Monday, but expect Stanton back in right field on Tuesday night.
"He's going to get the hit," Mattingly said about Ichiro. "I mean we're still trying to win games."
Hey, right now Ichiro is helping the Marlins do just that.
"He's on another planet right now," said Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds, MLB's all-time leader with 762 homers. "He works out all day. He's in such great shape. Just strap yourself in and go along for the ride. And it's a heck of a ride."
This is a big thing. The Padres issued 50 credentials to the Japanese media alone for the three-game series and the groundswell will only grow greater as he nears becoming the first Japanese born player to accumulate 3,000 hits.
For a long time, Ichiro really didn't want to talk about Rose or that once seemingly distant figure. But that's starting to change now as he's playing with the verve of a 30-year-old. Ichiro is actually 42.
"There are, I guess, a little more media that's here now, so hopefully I can get it done fast so that they can go back home," Ichiro said about catching and passing Rose, in particular. "I guessed it's kind of big in Japan because I see a lot of people here I don't know. But I'm just going out and doing what I can."
Mattingly said the key to keeping Ichiro fresh is playing him only about three games a week. He batted .284 in 143 games two years ago for the Yankees when he had 102 hits in 359 at-bats. Last year, his first for the Marlins, he played in 153 games with Stanton injured and his batting average dropped to a low of .229 in his now 16-year MLB career.
"The 153 games were just too much," said Mattingly, who was managing the Dodgers to a loss to the Mets in a National League Division Series while all that happened with Ichiro. "I think he just got tired at the end of the year. I'm trying to make sure that it doesn't happen this time around."
This time, Ichiro is already almost halfway to last year's 91 hits in 398 at-bats. He is certainly playing with a real purpose.
"I've been watching him do this all year long," Mattingly said. "I'm excited. It's really cool to be a part of this just watching him this year. I told some guys the other day that I was a fan right away of his. Watching him up close is really nice to see.
"All the Japanese players are so well prepared. They love the game and the way they treat the game is really special. Let's just take age out of the equation. He's still a very, very good player."
And Mattingly didn't really expect that, either.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.