SEATTLE -- The Mariners benched leadoff hitter Chone Figgins on Friday after the veteran's batting average plummeted to .189 after a recent slump, continuing two-plus subpar seasons since signing with Seattle.
Manager Eric Wedge made the announcement before the Mariners opened a six-game homestand, with Dustin Ackley taking over Figgins' spot at the top of Seattle's batting order against Minnesota.
"He's going to be in more of a utility role for us now," Wedge said. "I had a good conversation with Chone today before he posted the lineup and he was a total pro about it. I felt like this was the time we needed to do it. I wanted to give it as long as I felt like I could to get him going, but it just wasn't happening to the point I felt like it should."
Now the question turns to whether Figgins has a future spot on Seattle's roster.
Figgins has never lived up to the $36 million, four-year deal he signed with the Mariners before the 2010 season. Despite his ability to play a number of different spots in the field, his bat has not come close to matching the production he posted with the Los Angeles Angles.
Figgins was moved back into the leadoff role at the start of this season in the hopes that returning to his familiar spot in the batting order might spark his offensive production. The trade-off for the Mariners was moving Ichiro Suzuki to the No. 3 spot in the order after he hit leadoff the previous 10 seasons with the Mariners.
For a short time putting Figgins back at leadoff was working. He was hitting .260 with a .321 on-base percentage on April 18 and was showing flashes of being the same disruptive leadoff hitter he was with the Angels.
But in the following 12 games, Figgins had just five hits in 45 at-bats with three of those hits coming in one game against Detroit. Figgins was hitless in his last 19 at-bats during the Mariners' road trip and Seattle lost the last six games on that swing.
"There's not like one day that you put on the calendar coming out of spring training," Wedge said. "You watch, you feel it, you see where it's going and where it's going to go and for me it's a decision I felt like we needed to make right now and that's what we did."
"He's started a ton of games in his big league career and now he's going to be in a different role, for the time being," Wedge said. "
Rather than move Suzuki back to the top of the order, Wedge said he'll give Ackley the chance to lead off for now. Friday night was his fourth game this season atop the order. Third baseman Alex Liddi hit second on Friday, but Wedge wants Liddi more in the middle of the order. Wedge would like to get shortstop Brendan Ryan into the No. 2 hole, but Ryan is in a 0-for-26 slump.
The return of outfielder Mike Carp from the disabled list was also part of the decision with Figgins. Carp's primary field position is left field and Figgins had made 19 of his 24 starts this season in left with Carp injured.
"We want to give consistent game reps to a lot of our young guys," Wedge said. "That's what we've done and that's what we'll continue to do."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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