PITTSBURGH -- He’s 43. His hair is gray. His batting average is .198.
Ichiro Suzuki, who may finally be showing his age, gave the Marlins their only run on Sunday when he homered at PNC Park. But his shot to right was one of the few golden moments for the Japanese baseball icon in a season that is quickly ranking as his worst.
Blame it on age. Blame it on rust from lack of playing time. Whatever.
It hasn’t been a good year for one of the all-time greats.
One season after recording his 3,000th hit, Suzuki is struggling to break .200 -- the so-called “Mendoza Line.”
“Every day has been a battle for me,” Ichiro said through his translator. “I’ve been so limited on opportunities. It’s hard to get a feel for the game. I’m just trying the best I can to get in there. But, obviously, that’s just how it’s been.”
The only reason Ichiro was starting on Sunday was because Giancarlo Stanton was sitting out with a bruised wrist.
“I knew that he was OK and thank goodness that everything was OK,” Suzuki said of Stanton. “So I didn’t know that I was in the lineup today. I came to the ballpark and saw my name in the lineup. That’s kind of how it started. I didn’t really have time to prepare.”
At least Suzuki gave his best Stanton rendition when he came through with his second home run. It’s the most he’s hit since 2013.
“I had to replace Stanton today, so maybe, I should hit one, at least one,” Suzuki said with a smile.
But there’s been little to smile about. Suzuki was injured early in spring training when he collided with a teammate during routine outfield drills and his season has been slow to get going. The outfield trio of Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich has remained largely healthy, making it difficult for manager Don Mattingly to allow him much playing time.
“This is the first time expereincing a stretch like this, where you’re just not getting the opportunities,” Suzuki said. “Now, you can say the last two years we’ve had too many injuries. That’s why I was getting opportunities I probably shouldn’t be having.”
But at least Suzuki performed, perhaps not to the elite levels of his early years. But he hit .291 last season. Now he’s Mendoza-like.
Suzuki has said he wants to play until he’s 50. But if he continues like this, it’s hard to imagine.
“For me, what’s important now is not the numbers,” he said. “It’s mentally hanging in there through this stretch, and also trying to get a feel for the game, getting that back, that feeling back. That’s what I’m focusing on doing and hopefully I’ll continue to get there.”