Quietly, Ichiro Suzuki’s locomotive is gaining steam. It wasn’t long ago that his struggles at the plate pointed toward his benching in the favor of Vernon Wells, whose bat was on fire. But now, the results have reversed.
In the last ten games, Suzuki has 12 hits in 38 at bats, good for a .316 average. Even though he has three multi-hit games in the stretch, what is most encouraging is his consistency. He hit safely in seven of the ten games, including the last four.
So, has his movement to the second spot in the batting order caused the jump in his batting average, or is the jump in his batting average the reason for his movement to the second spot?
Probably, it is a combination of the two. Manager Joe Girardi certainly took into account Suzuki’s solid contact before making the move. With Suzuki, though, it is more a matter of bat control and ball placement. He has always hit with the finesse of a tennis player.
When he is in his groove, he slices bloopers that find their way over the heads of infielders and before the gloves of charging outfielders. When the outfielders try to cheat and move in, he lines the ball through the outfield gaps.
It’s like an artist at work. Almost as if he imagines the landscape and then paints the path of the ball, making it land exactly where he wants. It is reminiscent of Rod Carew, the great Minnesota Twins second baseman, who employed the same technique to battle for the batting title year after year.
Of course, batting in front of Robinson Cano certainly hasn’t hurt. Even though Cano has also struggled at times, any pitcher in his right mind would choose to attack Suzuki if he can get out of facing Cano and his power.
While the results are not yet evident on the scoreboard, this is one move Girardi may have gotten right, especially since Wells is hitting only .125 in his last ten games. Obviously, the emergence of Zoilo Almonte has made the move even easier. Almonte gives the Yankees an extra threat lower in the lineup.
And if Suzuki’s locomotive picks up speed the way it did last season, perhaps the Yankees can get back on track.