PEORIA, Ariz. – If Ichiro Suzuki took the news that the Seattle Mariners would change the top of their lineup in stoic fashion, the man who will replace him leading off did not.
“It’s like going home again, emotionally and mentally. It was very emotional for me,” Chone Figgins said Wednesday.
The best seasons of Figgins’ career came with the Los Angeles Angels, when he was batting first, and Figgins said the transition to hitting second in Seattle didn’t go well – not because of where he was hitting, but because he got away from what he did best.
“I’m not a pure hitter. My style leading off? To make you work. To be a pain in the butt for the opposing pitcher from the first pitch of the game on,” Figgins said. “I’m not a pure hitter, but I’ll give you hell every at-bat.”
At age 34, the 5-foot-8, 180-pound infielder is the likely opening day third baseman, a fact that may make some Seattle fans balk.
A career .280 hitter, Figgins signed a four-year, $36 million deal before the 2010 season – and in two years has batted .236 as a Mariner.
Booed last season before he lost his job, Figgins missed the final two months with a hip injury. Figgins may not get the benefit of the doubt from Mariners fans this year.
“I’m more concerned about the team than the fans,” Figgins said.
Ichiro, a leadoff man for all but 13 games in 11 seasons, was a 10-time All-Star leading off who will now bat third. It doesn’t seem a perfect fit, given Ichiro’s style – he is always among the league-leaders in infield hits. Manager Eric Wedge, however, thought a change at the top was required, and he’s clearly hoping to invigorate both Figgins and Ichiro.
“I’ve struggled, yeah. I got out of my game plan, and it had nothing to do with hitting second,” Figgins said. “It was all on me. I was trying to do too much.”
In camp, Figgins seems to have put the hip injury behind him.
“My approach is to be aggressive. I’m healthy again, and that always comes first,” he said. “I can run again now, not just stealing a base, but going first to third on a single, putting pressure on the defense.
“The job is to put the guys behind me in a better position at the plate.”
Wedge talked about the Figgins he remembers playing against when he managed Cleveland.
“Being on the other side, I appreciated what he could do at the top of a lineup, the havoc he could create,” Wedge said. “I know he’s struggled here, but we’re going to give him every chance to succeed.”
Figgins sees that as an endorsement not just of his play but also his approach.
“I’ve had to battle my whole career – to get to the big leagues, to stay here,” Figgins said. “I’ve battled the last two years, trying to make something happen, and I’ll fight every at-bat this season, too.”