TOKYO Japan's greatest baseball export Ichiro Suzuki has confessed to feeling "mental stress" last year after seeing his record streak of 200-hit seasons snapped at 10.
The Seattle Mariners outfielder told local media he was struggling to find reasons for a drop in form which triggered some serious soul-searching for the 38-year-old.
"I felt desperate last season," Suzuki told the Nikkan Sports newspaper. "That doesn't happen to me very often. Mental stress is a lot worse than physical stress."
Suzuki has taken Major League Baseball by storm since leaving Japan in 2001, laying claim to being the country's greatest athlete in any sport.
He broke an 84-year record for hits in a single season in 2004, finishing with 262, five more than Hall of Famer George Sisler had in 1920.
Suzuki broke another of MLB's oldest records in 2009 by becoming the first man to record 200 hits for nine successive seasons before extending it to 10.
"If I can get two or three hits every day, I never feel tired," said the future Hall of Famer. "One hit relieves my stress, it's better than an hour of massage."
Critics say age has begun to slow Suzuki, who has been linked to the general manager's job at his former Japanese club Orix in the local media.
"Sometimes I feel I'm getting older, or more sensitive to what they say on TV," said Suzuki, who finished with 184 hits and a .272 average last year, both career lows.
"Yes my skin gets dry but it's a lame conclusion to blame everything on age. People are quick to point to age. Those kinds of people don't interest me.
"But if you are going to call yourself a professional, you need to put up results," added Suzuki, whose Seattle team finished 2011 bottom of the AL West with a 67-95 record.
Suzuki had a scorching start to the season, leading the American League with 39 hits in April but it turned out to be the only month he hit .300 or better.
"I didn't feel good at the plate but I continued getting hits in April," he said. "It was the most difficult start (to a season) I could think of.
"It's hard to judge in April if what you've been working on in spring training was right.
"I thought I was right because I was getting hits, but it takes time to work out what went wrong. There was a gulf between my stats and the way I was feeling."
Suzuki, who missed out on an 11th Gold Glove award and All-Star appearance, added: "It's almost impossible to tell yourself 'This is wrong!' when things are going so well."
(Reporting by Alastair Himmer; Editing by Peter Rutherford)