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Ichiro a fixture in AL outfield

Ichiro becoming a fixture in AL outfield

SEATTLE -- Call it the "Drive for five in '05" for Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki.

Ichiro has been voted onto the American League All-Star team in each of his four Major League seasons and is off to a good start to extending his streak to five after the first round of fan balloting for the Midsummer Classic, which will be played July 12 at Comerica Park in Detroit.

He is third among outfielders in voting, with a total of 515,343 votes. Boston's Manny Ramirez (553,959) and the Angels' Vladimir Guerrero (542,541) are ahead of him.

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The two-time AL batting champion and record holder for most hits in one season -- 262 hits last season -- had the best April of his career in 2005, batting .356 -- more than 100 points higher than the previous season.

Ichiro came on strong at the end of the fan balloting last season, started in right field for the AL All-Stars and went 1-for-4 in the game played at Minute Maid Park in Houston. He is now 2-for-10 in the Midsummer Classic and has been one of the Major League's most popular players since arriving from Japan prior to the 2001 season.

Though his batting average slipped in May, when he batted below .300, Ichiro was among the league leaders in hits, stolen bases, triples and great defensive plays made in right field. He has been a pitcher's best friend in balls hit down the right field line and into the right-center field gap.

Ichiro also has demonstrated his leaping ability, climbing walls to take home runs away from opposing hitters.

Three-fourths of the Mariners' infield is among the leaders at their respective positions. Third baseman Adrian Beltre is off to a slow start on offense, but has been a Gold Glove caliber defender and ranks among the top vote-getters at his position.

If he can get hot in June, something that's definitely possible, the quiet slugger would enhance his chances of becoming an All-Star for the first time. Surprisingly, he wasn't on the National League's 30-player All-Star team last season despite a .314 batting average, 22 home runs and 56 RBIs at the midway point.

First baseman Richie Sexson, who missed most of the 2004 season with a serious shoulder injury, has returned and given his employers a big bang for a buck, ranking among the league leaders after the first two months of the season.

Sexson, fifth after the first round of fan voting, represented the NL in the 2002 and '03 All-Star Games.

Second baseman Bret Boone, a three-time All-Star (1998-2001 and '03) also is fifth and presumably needs to have a torrid June to move up the list.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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