SEATTLE -- Yeah, it's early. Two weeks into a six-month season, massive conclusions should not be drawn. But early returns on manager Eric Wedge's move of Ichiro Suzuki to the No. 3 spot in the Mariners batting order have been positive to this point, which is certainly encouraging for an offense in need of production.
Heading into Thursday's series finale with the Indians, Ichiro was leading the Mariners in RBIs with seven and his slugging percentage of .415 is well above his .335 of last year.
The 38-year-old right fielder hit his first home run of the season in Wednesday's 4-1 victory. And while he's not expected to blast a bunch of long balls, it never hurts to see your No. 3 hitter displaying some pop.
Wedge said all spring that he wanted Ichiro to define the No. 3 role in his own way and he's pleased how that's developed so far.
"I feel like that's exactly what he's doing and he's going to continue to get better," Wedge said. "He's off to a decent start, he looks comfortable in that role, he's produced in that role and I think he's only going to get better. There are so many balls he's hit hard that have been outs and other pitches that he's just missed. I like what I'm seeing."
For his part, Ichiro refuses to get caught up in any conversation about his new position. Asked if he's getting used to being in the No. 3 spot, he offered no clues.
"I don't know," he said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "I'm just doing my role and that's all I can think of."
Wedge said Ichiro definitely seems to be hitting the ball with more authority.
"I do feel he's trying to drive it more," Wedge said. "I see him being a bit more aggressive at times and being more selective at times. That's the best of both worlds."
Ichiro now has 96 home runs in his 12-year Major League career, needing four more to become the 12th player in franchise history with 100 or more. His career high for a season was 15 in 2005.
Smoak back in lineup Thursday night
SEATTLE -- First baseman Justin Smoak was back in the Mariners lineup on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday's 4-1 victory over the Indians with a tight right hamstring.
"It feels good," Smoak said. "But I haven't done anything yet to test it that much. I'll still take it easy. I'm not going to go out there and turn the jets on. But I'm back in there today and hopefully it feels good."
The big man spent most of the day getting treatment and running in the pool to loosen up his leg. Manager Eric Wedge said he would "have to manage" the injury and will be monitored on a day-to-day basis, but jokingly noted Smoak isn't exactly known for his blazing speed in the first place.
"We've got him taped up pretty good," Wedge said. "He probably won't steal a base tonight. We'll just take him day-to-day."
Smoak is used to the speed jokes. Asked if he could score from first base on a double by Kyle Seager, who happened to be standing at the adjacent locker, Smoak just chuckled.
"I normally don't score on that anyway," he said. "I keep telling him, he's got to hit it over the fence."
Ichiro leads nine Mariners on All-Star ballot
SEATTLE -- Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki headlines a list of nine Mariners players on the 2012 American League All-Star ballot that was released on Thursday.
Ichiro, a 10-time All-Star, missed out on the All-Star Game for the first time last year.
This year's All-Star Game will be in Kansas City on July 10.
Rookie Jesus Montero is on the ballot for the first time at designated hitter, while second-year players Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager debut at second and third base, respectively.
"That's unbelievable," Seager said. "I definitely did that stuff growing up. You watch your favorite players and everything and always vote for them. That's an extreme honor to even be mentioned. It's an honor just to be in the league. To be on that is an absolute honor."
Also on the AL ballot are catcher Miguel Olivo, first baseman Justin Smoak, shortstop Brendan Ryan and outfielders Mike Carp and Franklin Gutierrez.
Online balloting opens Friday on MLB.com and voting in Safeco Field will begin Sunday.
Jaso's role at catcher will be limited
SEATTLE -- John Jaso started his third game of the season at designated hitter on Thursday, but manager Eric Wedge said the left-handed hitter won't likely see much time behind the plate under the current rotation.
Fans have been eager to see more of Jaso after he went 3-for-8 with a triple, home run and four RBIs in his first two games after being acquired in an offseason trade from Tampa Bay for Josh Lueke. But Wedge is sticking with his plan of using veteran Miguel Olivo as the normal starter and working rookie Jesus Montero in several days a week.
Montero has been the DH nine times and started at catcher three times in Seattle's first 13 games. He got the day off Thursday, with Jaso at DH.
"Miggy is our starting catcher," Wedge said. "Jesus is going to get time as well. It's going to be tough to get Jaso back there. Not that I'm against it by any means, but right now I feel like we have to give the time to Miggy and Jesus. I still want to get Jaso's bat in the lineup from time to time, so that's what we're trying to do. He does a good job working and staying sharp."
Olivo was hitting just .125 going into Thursday's game, but Wedge believes the veteran will be fine. Olivo, 33, hit .224 with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs in 130 games last season.
"We're trying to get him going," Wedge said. "We've had conversations and I've been pleased with what he did this spring. He's working up the middle more, trying to go the other way, which is against what you've seen in the past from him typically.
"He did a nice job with it [in spring], but I think he's been a little anxious here early on. He's been pressing a little bit. But his confidence hasn't wavered, he still feels like he's going to hit and I do, too. But he just has to do some things from an adjustment period to make that happen."
• Catcher Adam Moore underwent surgery on a torn meniscus in his right knee on Thursday and manager Eric Wedge said the prognosis is that he'll be out 4-6 weeks. That's positive news for Moore, who missed all of last season with a meniscus tear in the same knee and opened this season at Triple-A Tacoma after breaking a bone in his wrist during Spring Training.
"It went according to plan," Wedge said of the surgery. "Last year was obviously a much lengthier deal, but this is a different area of the meniscus."
• Mike Carp was scheduled to start in left field for Tacoma on Thursday night as he continues his return from a sprained right shoulder, but was switched back to designated hitter after taking batting practice before the game in Sacramento. Carp played DH for Tacoma the previous six games, batting .167 (4-for-24), and the Mariners want him to play a couple of games in the outfield before bringing him back to the Major League club.
• When Chone Figgins homered to lead off Wednesday's game, it snapped a string of 579 at-bats over 159 games (from 2005-12) without a home run for Figgins at Safeco Field. That was the longest homerless streak by one player in Safeco history.
Figgins did have two Safeco Field home runs prior to that streak while with the Angels.
• Brandon League was tied with Baltimore's Jim Johnson for the American League lead with five saves going into Thursday's games. League is five-for-five in save opportunities this year and 33 of his last 35, dating back to May 18, 2011. He has 50 saves in his career, including two with Toronto.