Chone Figgins will start at second, Jose Lopez will start at third
In Seattle's 12-6 victory over the Angels, Figgins gets three hits and scores three times, while also taking part in three double plays, two of them involving new third baseman Jose Lopez.
Seattle Times staff reporter
TEMPE, Ariz. — A hearty cheer rose from the stands here Sunday before a first-inning at-bat by Chone Figgins, thanking him for all he had done for the hometown team.
The newest Mariners second baseman, a position Figgins is now officially slotted to play on opening day, spent years as an offensive catalyst for playoff-bound Los Angeles Angels squads and appreciative fans were letting him know he was missed. If those clapping needed an idea of just how missed Figgins might be, he showed them right away by tripling to the right-field corner to bring Ichiro home with the first run of a 12-6 victory by the Mariners.
Figgins notched three hits and scored three times, while also taking part in three double plays, two of them involving new third baseman Jose Lopez. Both players confirmed pregame that manager Don Wakamatsu told them late last week that the position switch is permanent and they will open the season playing where they are right now.
"It's been a little different than before because I'm playing it on a much more consistent basis," Figgins said of his full-time conversion to second base, which he'd manned sporadically for the Angels over the years. "But it was something I was prepared for. I always come prepared."
Fans here may also have not recognized Figgins in his new batting spot; he has switched to No. 2 in the order after leading off for the Angels last season.
Figgins had said he wasn't overly excited about facing the Angels for the first time, though it's the only other major-league team he had known. He compared it to leaving the Colorado organization in a 2002 after nearly six years with them after being drafted out of high school.
"You never forget the first team that drafted you," he said. "They're the ones who gave me my start."
Still, he added, he was looking forward to facing several of his longtime teammates, who he has kept in touch with regularly. His best friend with the Angels, new Mariners first baseman Casey Kotchman, came through with three hits against his former club and continues to impress Seattle's coaching staff with his work out of the No. 3 spot in the order.
The Mariners are only beginning to see how Figgins can transform their team both at the plate and in the field.
Figgins and Ichiro went a combined 5 for 8 with two triples, a walk and three runs batted in from their 1-2 punch atop the order.
"It shows you, when we get Ichy and Figgy going, it makes for quite a productive day," Wakamatsu said.
Wakamatsu confirmed in an interview that Figgins at second base and Lopez at third is now official.
"I like what I see in a lot of little things," he said. "The one thing that comes to mind is the communication, whether it's Figgy talking to Lopey, or Jack (Wilson) talking to Lopey, or (Casey) Kotchman, they're starting to look like an infield. I like what I see."
Lopez did commit a sixth inning error on Sunday, flubbing a ground ball by Bobby Abreu. But he said he's generally "playing happy" now and becoming more confident each time he starts a game at the hot corner.
While he has taken extra grounders in workouts all spring, Lopez added that he plans to increase that workload before and after games starting tomorrow so he'll be even more ready once the season opens.
Figgins hasn't had as much of an adjustment with the glove, given his experience moving around. Earlier in his career, he said, it was footwork issues that were his main defensive challenge.
"I started to realize I had to control my feet," he said. "Because I motored too fast on some plays."
Infield coaches had pushed Figgins to make some changes over the years. Knowing this and the emphasis he has since placed on footwork has helped make the permanent second-base transition this spring easier than it otherwise would have been.
"I never stop working," he said. "When the season starts, you know I'll be ready to go."
Just as the Mariners are now ready to go with him at new offensive and defensive slots and ride that wherever it leads.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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