Well-prepared Ichiro produces in rare start

Veteran, who had 3 hits, lone RBI vs. Nats, stays sharp, learns as full-time pinch-hitter

Well-prepared Ichiro produces in rare start

WASHINGTON -- As arguably one of the greatest hitters of this generation, Ichiro Suzuki has been an everyday player his entire career. But as his 17-year tenure in the Majors likely winds down -- and with the Marlins enjoying a healthy starting outfield this season -- Ichiro has received fewer opportunities and been a full-time pinch-hitter for the first time in his career.

But Ichiro has followed the same pregame routine for years, one he told reporters was too elaborate to explain in a short interview. That process has helped him prepare for whatever position he's given each day.

In the Marlins' 10-1 loss to the Nationals on Wednesday night, that role was to start in center field. The veteran took advantage, going 3-for-4 with Miami's lone RBI.

"Obviously, the good swings don't really surprise you, but he just continues to go with good at-bats," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "He's just a player, and it's fun to watch him do his work. He knows what he's doing out there."

Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna have been solid and healthy this season, leaving Ichiro the odd man out. Before this week, the veteran hadn't started since July 30, while serving as pinch-hitter in six games.

But after Ichiro started in place of Ozuna on Tuesday, he received the nod Wednesday to replace Yelich, who's hitting just .158 (6-for-38) with three runs over his past 11 contests. Ichiro recorded his first RBI and multi-hit game since July 26, and he was one of five Miami players who recorded a knock while Gio Gonzalez allowed one run over seven innings.

But Thursday, Ichiro will likely revert back to his pinch-hitting role, a position in which he's hitting .269 on the season. He entered Wednesday hitting just .193 as a starter. Over the 5-foot-11, 175-pound outfielder's career, he was hitting .312 while batting .260 as a pinch-hitter.

Ichiro has the most pinch-hit at-bats (67) and hits (18) in the Major Leagues this year. Entering Wednesday, Jesus Aguilar had the second-most pinch-hit at-bats (46), and Pat Valaika notched the second-most pinch-hit knocks (14).

Even in a new role, Ichiro is still climbing baseball's all-time hit chart. He passed Craig Biggio last week for 21st place, and he now has 3,064 hits in the Majors.

With three starting infielders on the DL, Ichiro's production is even more crucial as it grants Mattingly more freedom to give his outfielders days off.

"Any opportunity I get, even if it's playing defense or getting a pinch-hit opportunity late in the game or getting a start, they're all going to be just as important," Ichiro said through a translator. "I take every single one of those opportunities the same way."

Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington who covered the Marlins on Wednesday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.