Eric Wedge ‘leaning’ toward dropping Ichiro from leadoff spot

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The Seattle Mariners remain in a transition phase, attempting to undo the messes of Bill Bavasi while playing in a beefed up AL West division that includes two teams — the Rangers and Angels — that are throwing money around like they just got some magic pants.

A big part of that transition will involve 38-year-old right fielder Ichiro, whose contract runs out after the 2012 season. He’s coming off his worst season in the big leagues and will make $17 million in 2012, money the M’s would no-doubt like to spend elsewhere.

It seems that manager Eric Wedge is already preparing for life without Ichiro, saying in an interview with 710 ESPN in Seattle on Wednesday that there is “a good possibility,” he’ll be dropping Ichiro from his customary spot at the top of the batting order.

“I’ve been doing a ton of thinking about that and I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’ve got a vision in mind in regards to what I want to see happen. Obviously I’ve got to work off of Ichiro a little bit, but ultimately I’m going to do what I think’s best to give us the best chance to score runs, because it’s too important for us to make a huge step offensively.”

Pressed on the question of removing Ichiro from the leadoff spot, Wedge admitted that “if you had to put a gun to my head right now I’d probably be leaning in that direction.”

Wedge said his ideal leadoff hitter gets on base a lot – which Ichiro used to do (.370 career OBP), but didn’t in 2011 (.310) – and sees a lot of pitches – something Ichiro has never done. He mentioned Dustin Ackley, who hit .273/.348/.417 in 90 games as a rookie in 2011, as a possible replacement.

Click through for the entire interview, as Wedge talks about other things, too, including Jesus Montero: “We think he’s going to be able to catch.”

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A.J. Hinch: “We’ll use every pitcher in Game 7 if we have to”

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It’s not entirely clear why the Astros threw Ken Giles into the ninth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS. With a six-run advantage and the bottom half of the Yankees’ lineup due up, pushing the series to its seven-game capacity looked like a sure bet. Giles may be one of Houston’s better bullpen arms, but he’s not their only option, and it would have made more sense to keep him fresh for a do-or-die Game 7 on Saturday night.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to postseason baseball. That’s more or less what Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch had to say after the game, telling reporters that he had envisioned a quick three outs from his closer as they tried to pull back from the brink of elimination. “We didn’t have the luxury of limping into that inning,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen how these guys can explode in these innings.”

It’s not difficult to recall the Yankees’ explosive drive in the eighth inning of Game 4, when they exploited the holes in Houston’s ‘pen and evened the series with Gary Sanchez‘s go-ahead double off of Giles. Back home in Minute Maid Park, however, there was a slightly different feel to the eighth and ninth innings of Game 6. Jose Altuve led off the eighth with a solo home run, followed by Alex Bregman‘s two-run double and Evan Gattis‘ sac fly. In the ninth, Giles labored through a 23-pitch outing to lock down the win, handing out a base hit and a seven-pitch walk before eventually whiffing Chase Headley on three straight pitches for the last out.

So, while Hinch’s decision to lean on Giles in Game 6 may have felt wasteful, his concerns were not entirely unfounded. He’s prepared to roll with the same strategy during Saturday’s series finale, too, leaving nothing on the table as the Astros battle for their first World Series showdown since 2005. According to Dallas Keuchel, that means all hands on deck — except for Justin Verlander, whose four wins, 24 strikeouts and 1.46 postseason ERA have gotten the Astros as far as he could possibly be expected to take them. “No pitcher is going to be in the dugout,” said Keuchel. “They’re all going to be in the bullpen, myself included. Any way we can help out, we’re trying to get to the World Series, the same way the Yankees are, and that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Does that mean Giles will be available for a Game 7 appearance? Stranger things have happened. Joe Sheehan notes that the right-hander has pitched in back-to-back days 13 times this year, though he’s never thrown as many as 23 pitches on Day 1. Granted, he likely doesn’t have enough left in the tank for another 20+ pitch run on Saturday, but with the World Series on the line, any help he can offer will be invaluable.