DETROIT - The Detroit Tigers got their first look at Ichiro Suzuki last night. And they were very impressed with the Seattle Mariners' leadoff hitter and right fielder.
He went 2-for-4 with a stolen base and extended his hitting streak to 10 games in the Mariners' 4-2 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park.
“It's amazing what Ichiro can do,” Tigers pitcher Jose Lima said. “The man can play. He has all the skills to be a superstar.”
Suzuki is the Michael Jordan of Japan.
In fact, he's so famous in his homeland that people refer to him by his first name - Ichiro - just like Madonna, Pele and Magic.
“Ichiro sure has stirred up a lot of excitement here in the states and in Japan,” said Tigers reliever Matt Anderson, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning to preserve the win for Lima. “It's amazing how many Japanese reporters follow him around and write about his every move.”
Ichiro, 27, was a seven-time Japan League batting champion and a three-time MVP. He has the best batting average in the majors with runners in scoring position at .449, and he boosted his season average to .330 last night with his 49th multi-hit game.
He was the first rookie to garner the most votes for an All-Star Game and currently leads the American League in several offensive categories, including hits, runs and at-bats.
“He's a good two-way player and that fits perfectly into our scheme,” Mariners manager Lou Piniella said.
The Mariners shelled out $13.1 million this past winter to secure the rights to Ichiro - 5-9 and 160 pounds - just so they could negotiate a three-year, $14 million deal.
“Obviously, I am the first position player to come over here from Japan - that's a given,” Ichiro said recently. “People say I'm an explorer, a pioneer, whatever. That's other people's opinion. That's not why I came over here. I came over here to play baseball.”
NO DEALS: The Tigers reportedly had been shopping pitchers C.J. Nitkowski and Chris Holt prior to yesterday's 4 p.m. non-waiver trading deadline.
And the Mariners had shown some interest in acquiring Detroit outfielder Juan Encarnacion, but the Tigers weren't willing to take only left-hander John Halama in return. The Tigers preferred right-hander Joel Pineiro, who will start against them tomorrow night at Comerica Park.
However, Tigers general manager Randy Smith didn't pull the trigger on any deals yesterday.
“There really weren't any trades out there that made sense for us,” said Smith, who did manage to deal disgruntled reliever Todd Jones to Minnesota on Saturday for left-handed starter Mark Redman. “We weren't just going to make a trade to make one. That wouldn't have made any sense.”
Manager Phil Garner said he thinks Encarnacion is the type of player the Tigers might have regretted trading two years from now. Encarnacion has hit safely in all five games on the current homestand after doubling to left field in the sixth inning last night.
“Juan, at some point in the next year or two, is going to put it all together,” Garner said. “He's going to have a good average, hit for power and have a lot of runs driven in and be a really good player.”
TOLEDO-BOUND: Catcher Brandon Inge will continue his rehabilitation assignment at Single-A West Michigan tonight before joining Triple-A Toledo tomorrow for a doubleheader against Columbus at Skeldon Stadium.
Inge has been on the disabled list since June 25 with a dislocated left shoulder suffered in a head-first slide at home plate.
TRIPLE THREAT: Left fielder Bobby Higginson hit his fourth triple of the season in the first inning for his 21st go-ahead RBI of the season - it scored Roger Cedeno.
The triple increased Detroit's major-league-leading total to 43, and extended the team's run of games with a triple to six.
ODDS & ENDS: Designated hitter Randall Simon had his 10th two-hit game. He has hit in all 18 starts since coming up from Triple-A Toledo, batting .441 (30-for-68). ... Roger Cedeno has stolen four bases in the past three games, all Tigers' victories. ... Losing pitcher Aaron Sele has allowed nine runs and 18 hits covering 121/3 innings in his past two starts. ... Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki has 33 saves. He needs only one more to reach 300 in his pro career, which includes 10 seasons in the Japan League. He has 70 saves in one-plus season with Seattle.