Twins manager Paul Molitor has told the story several times through the years. The story of how he and the Mariners tried to make Ichiro Suzuki a pitch-taking, on-base percentage machine in 2004, Molitor’s one year as Seattle’s hitting coach.
Suzuki tried to embrace the approach — and was batting .255 toward the end of April.
“Shows you how great a hitting coach I was,” Molitor said in 2016. “That lasted about three weeks. Then I said, ‘Forget everything I told you in spring training.’ It wasn’t working. And then he took off.”
And finished with a record 262 hits. It was Suzuki’s fourth year in Major League Baseball, and he was already among its biggest stars. And his star shined brightly throughout a career that ended on Thursday when he transitioned into a role as a special assistant with the Mariners. He didn’t say he was retired, leaving open the possibility that he could return to Japan next year for one final victory lap as baseball’s greatest international star.
And he did it his way. With a slight leg kick that generated no power. By hitting the ball to all fields then activating his blistering speed, speed that forced infields to shift before shifting was a thing.
He has 3,089 hits in Major League Baseball and 1,278 in the Japanese Leagues for a world record 4,367.
He did not draw a lot of walks. He walked a career high 68 times in 2002, but averaged 43 a year from 2001-2012. There were three seasons in which he actually stole more bases than walked.
He did not strike out. He averaged 68 strikeouts a season during that same time frame.
He hit 118 homers over nine seasons in Japan before starting his MLB career, and could put on power displays during batting practice. But he knew what type of player he wanted to be.
He was the antithesis of what baseball has become. He was perfectly impatient at the plate, looking for the first pitch he knew he could hit through the infield. Seattle Times sportswriter Larry Stone once called him “The Sultan of Slap,” and there is nothing wrong with that.
Launch angle, to Suzuki, meant how he unleashed mighty throws from right field that belied his 5-foot-11, 175 pound frame.
Good hitters come in all shapes and sizes. Jose Altuve can be as entertaining as Giancarlo Stanton. But no one has done it like Suzuki, who will slap and dash his way to Cooperstown.
“As good as he was, it’s hard to say that there will ever be another Ichiro,” Twins hitting coach James Rowson said. “But still, for guys like him who have an incredible knack for putting barrel to ball — it may not produce exit velocity or launch angle or some of the things we look at today, but at the end of the day, if you produce hits, if you are constantly getting on base because you can hit a baseball consistently and effectively, there’s always going to be a place for that.”
Indians: Matt Belisle, who stepped in as closer last season for the Twins, has been designated for assignment after posting a 5.59 ERA in seven appearances. Belisle is praised for his professionalism, but could not get batters out for the Indians.
Royals: The light bulb is starting to come on for Jorge Soler. He worked with a private hitting instructor during the offseason and now studies pitchers scouting’s reports like never before. The result: He entered Thursday batting .315 with a .436 on base percentage and a .953 on base-plus-slugging percentage.
Tigers: Lefthander Daniel Norris had groin surgery on Thursday and faces a two to three month rehabilitation program. Norris was bothered by groin problems last year and though he was healthy early this year. But a decrease in velocity led to a muscular decompression procedure on his left groin and pelvic region.
White Sox: While the Twins have called up Fernando Romero, White Sox fans are eagerly awaiting the promotion of top prospect Michael Kopech. Kopech’s fastball has been timed at a ridiculous 103 miles per hour. He’s 0-1 with a 2.67 ERA at Class AAA Charlotte but needs to improve his changeup before he gets the call.
The 3-2 pitch
Three observations …
• Since the Yankees and Red Sox are playing two games in London next year, can we get Manchester City (Yankees have a stake) and Liverpool (Fenway Sports Group is parent company) to play regular season match in the United States?
• Why is Yoenis Cespedes wearing a DIAMOND necklace on the field?
• Yes, there were more strikeouts than hits in the majors in April for the first time ever. And the Twins were one of the 19 teams that struck out more than had hits.
… and two predictions
• Ervin Santana will rejoin the Twins by May 28.
• The Nationals, currently in fourth place in the NL East, will be in first place by June 1.