02/21/12 6:45 PM EST
Figgins happy to have shot at leadoff spot
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
In Anaheim, he was the pesky little gnat that got on base, got in the heads of opposing pitchers, and helped set the table for five Angels playoff teams between 2004-09.
Figgins clearly hasn't been that guy for the Mariners since signing a four-year, $36 million free-agent contract in December 2009. But manager Eric Wedge is ready to give him a shot at the leadoff role that Ichiro Suzuki has held since 2001 in Seattle, announcing on Tuesday that Ichiro would bat third this year and Figgins will get the first shot at the No. 1 spot.
Figgins hit .188 in 81 games last year, and lost his starting position -- eventually going on the disabled list the final two months with a hip injury. But he's been working regularly at third base this camp, and will likely be given the nod there over rookie Kyle Seager when games begin in less than two weeks.
The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Figgins definitely relishes the opportunity to return to a leadoff role that he feels works best with his approach at the plate.
"You've got guys like Ichiro, Garret Anderson, [Dustin] Ackley, guys who are just good hitters," Figgins said Tuesday morning, before Wedge's official announcement. "And I've always seen myself as more of a battler. I keep saying that, and people don't really understand what I'm saying, but I'm going to make it rough on you over the course of a game.
"I may not get two hits in a game, but I may have two walks and two runs scored. And for me, that's a win, especially if we win. More importantly, if we win. I gave you hell that night, without getting a hit. And that's something I have to get back to understanding, the way my game is. To give you hell on both sides of the ball."
In Figgins' best season with the Angels in 2009, he hit .298 -- with 183 hits and 42 stolen bases. But most importantly to him, he led the American League in walks with 101, which not only set up his .395 on-base percentage, but reinforced the way he's most successful at the plate.
When Figgins came to the Mariners, being placed second in the lineup behind Ichiro changed that approach. He felt he needed to be more aggressive at the plate, looking to hit and move the runners, instead of working pitchers every which way just to get himself on base.
"The way I think of the game, a two-hitter is somebody that moves guys around or you've got somebody that drives the ball like I had [in Anaheim] with Bobby Abreu, Orlando Cabrera and even Garret Anderson sometimes," Figgins said. "That's a different case.
"But on the flipside, you've got a guy like [Ichiro] that can hit and a guy like me that can take. And when pitchers are coming at you, you think you've got to hit," Figgins said. "To me, that goes backward. It goes totally opposite [of what Ichiro does best] and I really get myself in a rut."
The more Figgins tried last year, the less he succeeded. As Yogi Berra once said, "Baseball is 90 percent mental, and the other half is physical." Thus, if a player ever needed a fresh start, it's Figgins. And while Mariners fans may not have the patience to hear it any longer, he indeed seems to have a renewed bounce in his step.
Recovering from the nagging hip labrum injury, getting married and receiving the support of his manager have all been positive steps over the offseason.
Figgins said he talked to Wedge on the phone even before flying out to Seattle to work out and hold face-to-face converstions with a group of teammates last month. The result was an understanding that Figgins was ready to grasp a new opportunity.
"Obviously, it's great to have your manager back you up," Figgins said. "He's seen what I've done and knows what I can do. Now I'm healthy, and he sees it. That's the main thing. He knows that I'm ready, and I'm going to perform."
Figgins had a .363 on-base percentage in eight seasons in Anaheim, including the .395 mark his final season. Ichiro's career on-base is .370, but fell to .310 last year. Figgins ranks fourth in the Majors in stolen bases since 2004 with 318, with Ichiro fifth at 302.
But the main thing for Figgins is getting back to the mental approach that works best for him. He said he's been too aggressive the past two years because of his role in the No. 2 spot.
"I've been thinking, 'I need to get hits, I need to get hits,'" Figgins said. "And that's not the way I've always played. I get hits when I'm making you work, because that's the way my mindset is.
"I started off in '10, and I was walking. But people were getting mad because I wasn't getting hits," Figgins said. "But I was second [on the team] in on-base percentage and I was scoring runs. This is the way I've always done it. I walk, walk, walk, then I get hot and my average goes up. But now, I understand that is just who I am, and that's the way I have to play to help the team."
The chance to revive Figgins and get Ichiro in a more productive spot in the order are the bottom lines to Wedge.
"If you look at the impact [Ichiro] can have in the middle of our lineup, it's greater than the impact he can have at the top of our lineup," Wedge said. "It's that simple. And if you look at what it means if we can get a Chone Figgins going, it would have tremendous impact."