Ichiro Off To A Fast Start In His Quest For 3,000 Hits
Coming into this season, reaching 65 hits was somewhat of a long shot for Ichiro Suzuki, even with his pedigree of being perhaps the best pure hitter of his generation.
Between a potential lack of playing time, advancing age and a declining batting average, there were many factors working against the future Hall of Famer in his quest to notch the 65 hits he needed to reach 3,000 for his career in 2016.
After the first five weeks of the season though, things have tilted in Ichiro’s favor.
Although he has started just seven of the Miami Marlins’ first 27 games, Ichiro has been great at the plate, going 12 for 36 for a .333 average through May 6. The Marlins fine young outfield of Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich have been playing very well, but manager Don Mattingly has been liberal with their days off. This has given Ichiro an opportunity to get off to the fast start he needed if he wanted to reach 3,000 hits this season.
Over a recent stretch of games, Ichiro started three of four games as Mattingly rested Yelich, Ozuna and Stanton one game each. This was a luxury Mattingly could exercise because Ichiro’s batting average stood at .381 before that stretch. Because those games came in the wake of the Dee Gordon suspension, Ichiro batted lead off, maximizing his at bats in the games.
Through the remainder of the season, CBS Sports projects Ichiro to bat just .245 over 167 at bats. They have him recording 41 hits over the remainder of the season, which would give Ichiro 53 hits for the year, leaving him 12 hits shy of 3,000. Ichiro currently has 36 at bats through the team’s first 27 games. At that rate, Ichiro would be on pace for about 215 at bats this season. He’d have to hit .300 on the nose for the season to reach 65 hits. Considering that he hasn’t batted .300 for a full season since 2010 and that his 2015 batting average was .229, it’s not likely that Ichiro will be standing there with a .300 average come September.
Ichiro’s best opportunity to reach 3,000 hits in 2016 would have to be due to the unfortunate circumstance of an injury to one of the Marlins’ outfielders. Yelich, Ozuna and Stanton all missed significant time last season and Stanton has missed an average of 60 games in three of the past four seasons. The chance that all three starting outfielders top 145 games for the season is probably slim.
In 2015, Ichiro got 398 at bats, a total Mattingly said was more than he should have last season. If he received 300 at bats this season, he’d need to bat just .220 to reach 3,000 hits. If he batted .250, he’d need 260 at bats to reach 3,000.
For now, all Ichiro could do is play the exact role he’s been playing. Giving outfielders a day off and providing a strong bat off the bench for the Marlins. He has appeared in 20 of the Marlins 27 games, with four of those off days coming the first week.
Ichiro has said repeatedly he has no plans to retire after this season and even has expressed a desire to play until he’s 50 if he could find a team to employ him. His workout routine is legendary and the 42-year-old remains in incredible shape, so there is no reason to doubt him.
The race to 3,000 hits will be a fascinating one to follow as the summer goes on. It really will just come down to the opportunity Ichiro gets. Even a 15-day disabled list stint for a Marlins outfielder could result in 50 extra at bats for Ichiro and greatly enhance his chances of reaching the milestone this year.
Given Ichiro’s track record, fans shouldn’t doubt whether or not Ichiro can overcome the obstacles that seem to be ahead of him if he wants to reach the goal this year.