WASHINGTON A year ago this week, Ichiro Suzuki joined Major League Baseball’s 3,000-hit club.
Most of those came as an every-day player.
But despite Ichiro’s scarce opportunities to add to his total this season, the ever-prepared, 43-year-old future Hall of Famer is starting to give the Marlins more production when called upon.
The Marlins gave Ichiro a pair of starts this week as manager Don Mattingly rested outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.
Despite Wednesday’s 10-1 debacle against the Nationals, Ichiro recorded his first three-hit game of the season and drove in a run.
“Obviously, the good swings, doesn’t really surprise you, but he just kind of continues to go with good at-bats,” Mattingly said. “And he made a couple plays in the outfield, too, cut a ball off [and] stopped someone from scoring.”
Ichiro has only started 17 games this season and had 141 at-bats entering Thursday’s game against the Nationals.
That’s less than half as many as the career-low 327 at-bats he had a year ago when he made 60 starts. With 49 games left, Ichiro is likely to finish with fewer this season, barring unforeseen circumstances.
While the Marlins have been ravaged by injuries to their pitching staff and infield, opportunities have been scarce for Ichiro with a healthy outfield highlighted by All-Star seasons from Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton.
Ichiro, one of the game’s all-time greats, has become one of its most productive pinch-hitters despite a slow start in 2017.
As of Wednesday, Ichiro led the majors in pinch hits with 18 and pinch at-bats with 67. He’s also hitting .269 as a pinch hitter this season.
Ichiro struggled with consistency at the plate over the first two months and didn’t break .200 — the so-called “Mendoza Line” — until June 13.
But since then, Ichiro is batting .300 with eight walks and five RBI in 60 at-bats, and he has shown glimpses he can still produce when given the opportunity.
“It’s fun to watch him do his work, but also just he’s a player,” Mattingly said. “Take the age out. He knows what he’s doing there. It’s fun to watch."
Marlins bench coach Tim Wallach drove in a lot of runs in his 13 seasons with the Montreal Expos — 905 to be exact.
In his 13th season with that same franchise — now the Washington Nationals — Ryan Zimmerman eclipsed that total.
Wallach had a good view Wednesday night from the Marlins’ dugout when Zimmerman, who has spent his whole career with the Nationals, hit a solo home run in the second inning for his record-breaking 906th RBI. Zimmerman would drive in five overall during a memorable 4-for-4 performance at the plate.
“We talked about intentionally walking somebody to not let him drive it in earlier,” Mattingly joked. “But figured he’d get it at some point. It’s good that Wally got a little recognition tonight.”
▪ Mattingly said he’s not named a starter for Saturday’s home game against the Rockies.
Justin Nicolino, who is 4-2 with a 1.99 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP in seven starts at Triple A since being optioned on July 1, is a candidate. Nicolino last pitched Sunday and is slated to pitch again Friday in New Orleans, barring a recall to the majors.
Odrisamer Despaigne, who pitched 3 2/3 innings Monday after Chris O’Grady injured his oblique, is another option.
▪ Friday: Marlins RHP Jose Urena (10-5, 3.70 ERA) vs. Colorado Rockies RHP Jon Gray (4-2, 4.94), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
▪ Saturday: Marlins (TBA) vs. Rockies RHP Jeff Hoffman (6-3, 5.03), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.