Even before New York Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran landed on the 15-day disabled list, the case could be made that Ichiro Suzuki deserved more playing time in the team's crowded outfield and lineup.
Now that Beltran is out for the foreseeable future with surgery possible, the door is open for Ichiro to start full time with one less player to compete with for an everyday role.
Suzuki has taken part in 30 of the team's 40 games and done a stellar job bouncing around as a starter, pinch-hitter and even a defensive replacement from time to time. The 40-year-old is hitting an impressive .364 with two RBI and a .397 OBP in only 55 at-bats.
The only hiccup Ichiro has had this season is his current back injury, which was a result of a diving play the outfielder made. Suzuki was available to play Thursday night, but never got into the game. Still, it's a great sign that the veteran is feeling much better and a rainout on Friday gave him an extra day to rest.
Ichiro finally available tonight, Girardi says #Yankees
— Brendan Kuty (@BrendanKutyNJ) May 15, 2014
What Ichiro doesn't have that Beltran does is power. Obviously the Yanks can't just plug Ichiro into the middle of the order and expect him to do what Beltran can, but putting him near the top of the order or towards the bottom could make Suzuki a valuable table-setter in either facet.
Manager Joe Girardi is a man who loves matchups and that bodes well for Ichiro, who is hitting .444 versus lefties this season while posting a .324 average against righties. That's correct, Ichiro (a left-handed batter) has better numbers against lefties this season, thus making it impossible for Girardi to justify sitting Ichiro because of matchup concerns.
Beltran's absence still leaves New York's outfield crowded, however. That's because the Yanks need Alfonso Soriano's power on offense, Jacoby Ellsbury's reliable bat and Brett Gardner's recent hot hand at the dish. No problem there since Ichiro could easily start at designated hitter and platoon with Soriano in the outfield or take over on defense altogether considering he's a better defensive player than Soriano.
Zoilo Almonte cannot be a solution instead of Ichiro. The 24-year-old owns a .236 career average and the Yanks don't need any holes in their lineup after Beltran has already been subtracted. With the current state of their rotation, the Yanks need run production and Suzuki can give them a better chance of doing that than Almonte can by getting on base and racking up hits to keep innings going.
Girardi must realize that Ichiro's bat should be a mainstay in the Yanks' lineup from now until Beltran returns because he is quite simply the best option they have to help score runs and his numbers do nothing but prove that point.
Follow Michael Moraitis on Twitter: @michaelmoraitisTags: Baseball, Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki, Joe Girardi, MLB, New York, New York Yankees, Zoilo Almonte