Ichiro, Beltre to return as Griffey waits

SEATTLE -- Ichiro Suzuki's maddening wait is almost over.

The Seattle Mariners again held out the All-Star and Gold Glove outfielder, plus active home run leader Ken Griffey Jr. and Gold Glove third baseman Adrian Beltre, for their series opener against the first-place Los Angeles Angels on Monday night.

Mariners rookie manager Don Wakamatsu said before the game that he expects Suzuki and Beltre back in the lineup Tuesday.

Suzuki was out for the eighth consecutive game because of tightness in his calf. He's been taking batting practice, shagging flies and running the bases with increasing intensity before games -- only to then stand alone by the dugout railing looking antsy to play.

Wakamatsu acknowledged Suzuki especially wanted in Monday, the first of three games against a team that entered Monday 10 games ahead of Seattle in an AL West race that is pretty much a rout. Second-place Texas was five games back of Los Angeles.

Suzuki is also 16 hits short of becoming the first player to have nine consecutive seasons with at least 200.

Asked by The Associated Press on Friday if he's been frustrated at his team's conservative approach to the injury, the man who has played the most games in the major leagues since 2001 (1,396) said: "There should be no reason for me to answer that question. I'm not here to play soccer."

Wakamatsu said one more day of rest would give the Mariners "peace of mind" that Suzuki will be able to remain healthy upon his return and reach his milestone. Suzuki would also tie the AL record for most 200-hit seasons held by Ty Cobb, one behind Pete Rose's major league record.

"We felt one more day would help us a whole lot for everyone to feel safer," said Wakamatsu, a few minutes before he and his franchise player exchanged a bow and pleasantries behind the batting cage.

"The biggest thing is just the relationship we've been able to build over a short period of time, and the trust that we have his best interests in mind. And that's the bottom line. I could sit there and go, 'Oh, we're playing the Angels today, we need you in there -- and we will risk the fact you might get hurt again.' We're not going to do that."

The 39-year-old Griffey did not start for the fourth straight time because of swelling in his left knee that was repaired by arthroscopic surgery in October. Griffey had the knee drained earlier this season.

Beltre will come off the disabled list Tuesday. He missed his 18th game Monday with a bruised testicle.

Seattle was also again without leading home run hitter Russell Branyan. He had an epidural injection in his back for a herniated disk and isn't expected back until Sept. 15, if at all this season.

The Mariners' lineup Monday had five players who weren't with the team when the season began: Josh Wilson, at third base for Beltre; Bill Hall, in right field for Suzuki; Jack Hannahan, at first base for Branyan; Jack Wilson at shortstop; and Ryan Langerhans in left field.

No wonder Wakamatsu said pitching and defense would be the key to beating the Angels.

It's been that way all season in Seattle. The Mariners entered five games over .500 despite being the AL's lowest-scoring team.