SEATTLE (AP) -Ichiro Suzuki saw his name on the lineup card as a designated hitter for the Seattle Mariners against the Baltimore Orioles on Monday afternoon despite a bruised leg.
With his iPod headphones lodged in his ears, he stretched in the clubhouse, hit in the batting cage, ran fluidly and then stretched some more.
All as usual.
``He's in his groove now. Kind of hard to approach him,'' Suzuki's interpreter, Ken Barron, said three hours before the game.
One day after he left a game shortly after a 96 mph fastball thrown by Detroit's Justin Verlander appeared to hit him squarely on the right knee, Suzuki said through Barron that the injury was ``nothing serious.''
Manager John McLaren called the news that his seven-time All-Star had avoided a knee injury ``a big relief'' and said Suzuki would be back in center field Tuesday.
``It was scary,'' McLaren said, adding he did not sleep well Sunday night. ``It hit in the meat of the leg. It didn't hit bone. That's why he's much better.''
Suzuki had a black and purple welt on the outside of his leg, just above the knee, the result of what trainer Rick Griffin described as a bruise of the lower right quadriceps muscle.
The 33-year-old Suzuki was having ice and a stimulation machine applied, but Griffin said Suzuki would likely need the ice for only one more day.
``Anytime he's ever been hurt, he's been a quick healer,'' said Seattle's longtime trainer, who called McLaren with the good news Monday morning.
Being a DH is in effect a day off for Suzuki. The six-time Gold Glove winner and last week's All-Star game MVP has played 87 games in center field this year. Monday was the third time he was the designated hitter. He has never been on the disabled list since arriving from Japan in 2001, and has played in an average of 160 games per season in that span.
The only player in major league history with 200 hits in each of his first six seasons had a major league-leading 130 entering Monday and was batting .350, second in the AL behind Magglio Ordonez of Detroit. He signed a five-year, $90 million contract Friday. He could have become a free agent after this season.
McLaren said Suzuki wanted to play center field again Monday.
``But I felt like with everything he's been going through - with the All-Star game and festivities there, the contract negotiations, then he gets hit - it's been a mental grind for him,'' McLaren said. ``I wanted to give him a break, at least defensively.''
McLaren and Suzuki have known each other since 1999 and share a far closer bond than the star had with manager Mike Hargrove, who resigned this month. McLaren said he and Ichiro have already met and decided on a rest plan for the remainder of this surprising Mariners season, which finds Seattle in playoff contention for the first time in four years.
McLaren said Suzuki will likely get more time off for games immediately preceding a team off day than he's had so far in his career. He wanted to rest Suzuki completely Monday, but the star refused the offer.

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