Ichiro Suzuki is continuing to struggle for form ahead of Japan's World Baseball Classic defence, with the Seattle Mariners right fielder's batting woes showing no sign of improving in front of his home fans.
|Nailbiting times for Ichiro [GALLO/GETTY]
Ichiro was unable to connect again for the national team in an exhibition against the Yomiuri Giants on Sunday, stretching his hitless streak to 11 at-bats as his average dipped to .130 in six practice games.
Japan will need all their leading players to perform well if they are to emerge from a tough Pool A, featuring Olympic gold medallist South Korea, China and Taiwan when games start on Thursday.
Trouble at the plate
Despite Ichiro's trouble at the plate, team manager Tatsunori Hara is not concerned about the two-time American League batting champion's struggles
Hara has returned him to his traditional leadoff position after playing him third in the first five games.
"I don't worry about Ichiro at all," Hara told Tokyo-based newspaper Kyodo.
"He's healthy, he can run and throw the ball hard.
"I believe he's ready for the tournament."
The 35-year-old attributed his poor performances to a dip in physical conditioning but the local media was highly critical of Ichiro on Monday, responding with headlines such as "No.1, but hitting .130", while itemising his futility over the six games.
Ichiro set MLB's single-season hit record and has over 3,000 combined knocks on both sides of the Pacific, but has received broad criticism for his role in Seattle's woeful 2008 team.
He appeared in all 162 games for the last-place Mariners but some players alleged he received preferential treatment, saying the Japanese star was not committed to the team.