Ichiro opens up, says he ‘felt desperate’ in worst season

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Ichiro Suzuki, 38, had the worst season of his MLB career in 2011, notching career lows in average (.272), hits (184), on-base (.310) and slugging (.335) as his Seattle Mariners struggled to a 67-95 record and second straight last-place finish in the AL West.

Ichiro talked about his disappointing year with the Nikkan Sports newspaper, and Reuters picked up the story.

As is usually the case with Ichiro, the story out of Japan is far more illuminating than just about anything that ever appears in the US press. Just a matter of being comfortable in your environment, I suppose.

Among the highlights in the story:

  • Ichiro didn’t feel right for much of the season, even in April while racking up an AL-best 39 hits. But he couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and the uncertainty kind of drove him nuts. “I felt desperate last season. That doesn’t happen to me very often. Mental stress is a lot worse than physical stress.”
  • He doesn’t take too kindly to those that suggest his drop-off is simply a natural part of the aging process. “Sometimes I feel I’m getting older, or more sensitive to what they say on TV,” he said. Can you hear the crankiness in his voice? He is getting older! Next thing you know he’ll be telling us all to get off his lawn. Ichiro did follow up the comment with this gem, however:

“Yes my skin gets dry but it’s a lame conclusion to blame everything on age. People are quick to point to age. Those kinds of people don’t interest me. But if you’re going to call yourself a professional, you need to put up results.”

  • Another nugget glossed over in the Reuters story is this: Ichiro has been linked to the general manager’s job at his former Japanese club Orix.

Very interesting. Ichiro’s contract is up after the 2012 season, so I suppose he could be looking for front office gigs back in Japan. But the scuttlebutt is that he’ll be looking for an extension from the Mariners as he chases the 3,000-hit milestone. With 2,428 career MLB hits, he would need to average 190 over the next three seasons to get to 3,000. Unless Ichiro continues to decline, an idea that surely makes him bristle, I’d bet on something getting done, possibly before the end of the 2012 season.

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Julio Urias to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery

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The news has gone from bad to worse for Dodgers’ left-hander Julio Urias, who is scheduled for anterior capsule surgery on his left shoulder next Tuesday and expected to be sidelined through the middle of the 2018 season. His MRI came back negative on Wednesday, giving the Dodgers some hope that the 20-year-old’s bout of shoulder inflammation wasn’t masking any structural damage, but the pain lingered several days later and prompted further concern from the club. The procedure will be performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

Urias was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City in late May and placed on the disabled list with left shoulder discomfort several weeks into his assignment. At the major league level, he owned a 5.40 ERA, 5.4 BB/9 and 4.2 SO/9 through 23 1/3 innings, going 0-2 in five starts with Los Angeles. He made a brief rebound in Triple-A, posting three wins and striking out 17 of 67 batters in 17 1/3 innings before landing on the DL.

It’s a tough blow for the southpaw, who had yet to hit his stride in the majors before getting sidelined with shoulder issues. The Dodgers were especially mindful of this outcome for Urias, and had taken preventative measures to protect his arm by establishing a strict innings limit last season. According to club president Andrew Friedman, there’s a small silver lining here: while Urias’ injury will keep him out of work for at least 12 months, he doesn’t appear to have sustained any damage to his labrum or rotator cuff, and could be facing a much more streamlined recovery process as a result. Whether he’ll be able to rebound once he takes the mound again remains to be seen.

Tigers release Francisco Rodriguez

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Tigers’ right-handed reliever Francisco Rodriguez was released on Friday, per a team announcement. The club recalled fellow right-hander Bruce Rondon from Triple-A Toledo in a corresponding move.

The former closer got the boot after losing his closing role in early May, giving left-hander Justin Wilson a chance to impress at the back end of the bullpen. It’s been a rough year for Rodriguez, who manufactured six blown saves and a 7.82 ERA, 3.9 BB/9 and 8.2 SO/9 over 25 1/3 innings for the Tigers. The final straw, it seemed, came with Robinson Cano‘s grand slam in the seventh inning of the Tigers’ 6-9 loss to the Mariners on Thursday.

While the demotion to a clean-up role and an apparent lack of communication caused Rodriguez considerable frustration, he’s two years removed from his last dominant performance as a major league closer and has shown few signs of returning to form. His recent slump doesn’t diminish the impressive totals he’s racked up over his 16-year career — 437 saves and six All-Star nominations among them — but if he can’t break out of it soon, he may not receive the kind of high leverage role he’s seeking with another big league team, either.