Mariners' Chone Figgins stays upbeat despite hitting woes
Chone Figgins, hitting just .195, doesn't make excuses for his problems this season, but the first-year Mariner could benefit from moving from No. 2 to No. 9 in Seattle's batting order.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Nothing in Chone Figgins' history says this should be happening. Nothing in his six seasons as a regular in the Los Angeles Angels' lineup suggests he should be struggling this mightily, this late into the season.
For six years Figgins has lasered line drives into infield holes and outfield gaps. He's a career .291 hitter, as dependable as high tide. He was an All-Star last season, when he hit .298 and walked 101 times.
He's a glue guy, the kind of player who can brighten a clubhouse during the bad patches and can light up a lineup when a team is on a roll.
Every team needs a player like Chone Figgins, and when the Mariners signed him last Dec. 15 for four years and $36 million, it looked like another genius move from general manager Jack Zduriencik.
Figgins was going to be another trigger finger at the top of the Mariners' order. On a team that wasn't going to hit many home runs, Figgins was going to get on base and put pressure on defenses.
He seemed perfect for Wak-ball. Low maintenance. High reward. A self-starter who could get his teammates started.
But through the first seven weeks of the season, Figgins has been one of the most glaring disappointments in the Mariners' 16-28 start.
After going 0 for 4 in Sunday's sorry 8-1 loss to the San Diego Padres, Figgins is hitting .195. He is tied with Franklin Gutierrez for most strikeouts with 42. Even more stunning, the switch-hitter is batting .144 left-handed.
How does a guy this good fall this hard? And how does a player who works as diligently as Figgins all of a sudden lose it from one side of the plate?
"Actually, I've been swinging the bat pretty good lately," Figgins said after the loss. "I feel like my old self. I'm not getting a hit every day, but I'm actually swinging the bat pretty well. I've been pretty proud of myself, actually, lately.
"I never change, no matter what the situation is. I'm not hitting for average, but I'm still going out and battling at-bats. That's something that's never going to change. I'm doing the same thing I do every day, I come in and play hard. That's one thing I never lack. I still work hard. I still enjoy playing. Still love to compete. Still love the game."
Figgins' troubles are magnified by his team's offensive ineptitude. Four of the Mariners who started against San Diego's impressive 22-year-old starter Mat Latos are hitting below .200.
The team batting average, .236, is the worst in the American League. The Mariners' slugging percentage, .311, also is last in the league.
Frustratingly, there is little the Mariners can do to change their direction. There are no prospects to recall. There is no trade out there that suddenly is going to make them more dangerous.
"We couldn't string anything together," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said after another weak five-hit effort. "We can't seem to get anything going."
Twice Figgins came to the plate with Ichiro on base and both times Figgins failed to advance him. Ichiro doubled with two out in the third, but Figgins ended the inning with a ground out to Latos.
Figgins, a career leadoff hitter, without hesitation moved to No. 2 in the batting order this season behind Ichiro. But he isn't blaming the switch for his problems. Figgins doesn't look for excuses.
Still, he could benefit from a lineup switch. Wakamatsu could hit Figgins ninth, practically putting him in front of Ichiro. Figgins does something Ichiro doesn't. He is the team leader in walks with 27.
"My mind-set never changes no matter where I am (in the order)," Figgins said. "I think times like this show you what you're made of. I'm not the kind of guy that's going to give in. I'll never give in. I'm going to go out and keep playing.
"That's who I am. I've always been like that. Stuff never comes easy. If you can realize that and battle through the hard times you can get rewarded."
These are the worst of times for Chone Figgins, but on a team that seems married to its fate, he is the one Mariner that history says will respond to this adversity.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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