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McLaren unfazed by Ichiro's struggles

McLaren unfazed by Ichiro's struggles

ANAHEIM -- The last time Ichiro Suzuki hit .250-something in April was four years ago, and he recovered nicely from the slow start.

The Mariners center fielder went 1-for-5 against the Tigers on April 30 that year, quietly triggering a 16-game hitting streak that raised his average to .322. By the end of May, the venerable hit machine was batting a more Ichiro-like .335 and on his way to shattering an 84-year-old Major League record.

Ichiro accumulated 50 hits in May -- the first of the three months he had at least 50 hits -- and ended the season with 262 hits, five more than Hall of Fame first baseman George Sisler had in 1920.

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And so, when Ichiro goes through any sort of stretch without much success at the plate, there seems to be less concern than when most players are scuffling.

"We were laughing the other day about his slump," manager John McLaren said, "and I mentioned his little Spring Training thing, when he went 0-for-21. He reminded me that it was 0-for-25. He always knows what's going on."

It is because of that knowledge, and work ethic, that the Mariners are confident that the slow start this year does not, in any way, indicate that at age 34, Ichiro has started the downside of a career that has reached remarkable heights.

"I can remember past years, when he would be hitting .270 or .280, and the next thing you know, he's going 10-for-14 and his average is back up to .360 where he always is," McLaren said. "He will get red-hot shortly."

With 10 hits in his next 14 at-bats, Ichiro would have a .319 batting average and, McLaren said, "We wouldn't be having this conversation."

Ichiro had some positive vibes emerge from Sunday's game against the Angels. He hit a line drive single to right field in the third inning and tripled in the fifth, driving in one run and scoring another, in Seattle's victory.

A little more than a week remains in the first month of the regular season, which gives the seven-time All-Star and two-time American League batting champion plenty of time to raise his average close to the .333 career mark he had entering his eighth season with the Mariners. And, as his MLB history shows, April tends to be his least-productive month.

Ichiro has batted as high as .356, going 33-for-101 in 2005, and as low as .243, when he was 27-for-111 in '03.

Regardless of what he hits in April, you can take it to the bank that he will end up with a .300-plus batting average at the end of the season and accumulate 200-something hits.

McLaren, who was on the Mariners coaching staff in 2001 when Ichiro made his MLB debut, said the '08 Ichiro version is the same as the younger model in '01.

"Nothing has changed," McLaren said. "He looks the same, the swing looks the same and he doesn't have any injuries. They are just making good pitches on him, but he always seems to respond when he encounters little bumps in the road. A couple of big games and that would be that."

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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