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Lopez likely to hit second for Mariners

Lopez likely to hit second for Mariners

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners' lineup is taking shape, and it appears second baseman Jose Lopez will open the regular season on Monday afternoon against the Rangers at Safeco Field batting second.

"We're thinking about it strongly, I think that's safe to say," manager John McLaren said. "He's hit behind the runner. He's swinging at more strikes. He's going to get more strikes with Ichiro [Suzuki] going first. I'm not going to say it is 100 percent, but we're leaning that way."

That would be great news for Lopez, who has said all along that he prefers batting behind Ichiro.

McLaren said earlier this spring that "seven or eight" of his players would like to hit second. Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt batted in the two-spot early in Cactus League games, then switch-hitting Jose Vidro, and for the past week, it has been Lopez.

And Lopez has done a good job, batting close to .300, hitting the ball to all fields and shortening his swing -- all the things a No. 2 hitter must do to be successful.

A free-swinger by nature, Lopez must learn to be a little more patient at the plate with Ichiro on base because McLaren wants his leadoff hitter to run more this season.

"He's going to have to learn [patience]," McLaren said. "Part of hitting No. 2 is when Ichiro takes off and you don't have two strikes, you have to know when to take a pitch and give him an opportunity to steal a base.

"It's going to be kind of a little bit of a learning process for him, and we'll see how it goes. I'm very confident that he'll fit in the slot very well."

Lopez excelled batting second in 2006, hitting .290 and earning a reserve spot on the All-Star team. He has not played up to that for more than a year now, but his focus has been superb this spring.

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"From Day 1, he's had an excellent attitude," McLaren said. "He's worked extremely hard at second base with [coach] Sam Perlozzo. I see a lot of improvement there -- the pivot, coming across the bag. His whole approach has been outstanding for me. He's had a good frame of mind.

"He seems to be happy, is having fun and enjoying himself. That's what we're looking for."

The versatile Vidro can bat anywhere in the lineup, and he might be best suited somewhere near to the bottom.

For the past few games, McLaren has batted first baseman Richie Sexson cleanup, third baseman Adrian Beltre fifth, Brad Wilkerson sixth and Vidro seventh, followed by catcher Kenji Johjima and Betancourt.

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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