Mariners-Athletics Preview

The Associated Press

After presiding over one of the AL's worst offenses since the implementation of the designated hitter, Mariners manager Eric Wedge believes dropping longtime leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki to third in the order will help Seattle generate more runs.

The Japanese superstar and his teammates produced just enough offense to beat the Oakland Athletics in the season opener in his homeland.

Suzuki tries to build on an impressive performance and help the Mariners sweep a two-game series from the Athletics on Thursday morning at the Tokyo Dome.

A year ago, Seattle hit a franchise-worst .233, was shut out a team-record 16 times and finished with an MLB-low 556 runs. Suzuki was in the middle of this mess, hitting a career-low .272 and failing to reach 200 hits for the first time in his 11 MLB seasons.

Wedge decided to take a new approach in 2012, putting Chone Figgins at the top of the order followed by Dustin Ackley and Suzuki.

The move worked in Wednesday's opener. Suzuki had four hits while Ackley homered and then singled in the go-ahead run in the 11th inning in a 3-1 win.

"We're trying to stretch out the lineup and have the guys feed off each other,'' Wedge said. "I think Ichiro hitting in the third spot is the right place. We're going to be a very offensive ballclub this year.''

Suzuki, batting third for the first time since 2004, had hits in his first three at-bats and drove in Ackley in the 11th.

"It was very special to open in Japan,'' said Suzuki, who spent nine seasons in Osaka with the Orix Blue Wave. "I wanted to have fun and give the fans something at this special time."

The Mariners have routinely started strong, winning six straight season openers, but that hasn't led to much success down the road. The team hasn't made the playoffs since 2001.

"Our team is off to a good start, and that's all that matters," said Ackley, who has hit three of his seven career homers against the A's.

Oakland, which hasn't been to the postseason since 2006, is notorious for starting slow, having lost nine straight openers.

The A's had plenty of chances to break Wednesday's game open, but went 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position.

"They got bigger hits than we did at the end,'' manager Bob Melvin said.

Oakland's biggest offseason acquisition, Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, was 1 for 3 with a seventh-inning double and two strikeouts in his major league debut. He was also hit by a pitch.

While the A's had little luck in the opener against 2010 Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez, who combined with two relievers on a six-hitter, they could fare a bit better against Jason Vargas.

Vargas went 10-13 with a 4.25 ERA in 32 starts in 2011 and was 1-3 with a 3.86 ERA in five outings against Oakland.

The left-hander is coming off a disastrous spring training outing against the Chicago Cubs on March 19, surrendering seven runs and eight hits while getting just two outs.

The A's counter with Bartolo Colon, who signed in January to aid a rotation that parted ways with Trevor Cahill and All-Star Gio Gonzalez.

The 2005 AL Cy Young winner went 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA in 29 games - 26 starts - for the New York Yankees in 2011 after sitting out the previous season because of right shoulder and elbow injuries.

The right-hander is 14-11 with a 4.13 ERA in 29 career regular-season starts against the Mariners, but hasn't faced them since 2009.

Suzuki is a .300 career hitter against Colon, and is batting .361 versus Oakland since the start of last season.

After this game, both teams have a week off before resuming the season April 6 in Oakland.

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