Ichiro Suzuki, at 42 years old, wasn’t supposed to be a factor this season. Preseason projections pegged him as a .249 to .251 hitter (depending on the source), without accumulating enough playing time to be considered an every-day player. I even wrote how these projections put his quest for 3,000 hits in doubt, with the most optimistic of the bunch giving Ichiro 43 hits in 173 at-bats.

Now, he has at least two hits in each of his last five starts — the oldest player to do so since Carl Yastrzemski in 1983 — and is a very tough out this season. In fact, you could also argue Ichiro’s plate discipline is the best it has ever been. His walk rate (9.3 percent of plate appearances) is almost near his career high set in 2002 and he is seeing the highest percentage of 3-0 counts in a decade.

As a result, his strikeout rate (5.0 percent) is more than half of what it was in either of the past three seasons and, if maintained, would be the lowest of his career. Ichiro rarely gets caught looking (two strikeouts in 140 plate appearances) and has lowered his strikeout swinging rate from 7.9 to 3.5 percent in one season.

Typically, older hitters have trouble catching up with fastballs, but Ichiro is showing no such decline. He is destroying four-seam fastballs this season, .435 against with 20 hits in 46 at-bats ending on the pitch, and is 11 for 28 (.393) against the sinker. Last year he averaged .243 and .247, respectively, against those pitches.

When he does get the bat on the ball, good things happen. Ichiro is producing a lofty .370 batting average on balls in play, his highest since the 2009 season (.389) and 720 basis points above the league average (.289). According to Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs, his ball-in-play rate in early June (95.4 percent) was the second highest since 2000. Only Tony Gwynn was better (96.2 percent in 2000).

Ichiro now needs 21 hits to reach the coveted 3,000-hit milestone, joining Ty Cobb, Paul Molitor and Eddie Collins as the only players in baseball history to collect 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases with a career .300 average. At his current pace, you can expect the celebration to occur sometime during the series against the St. Louis Cardinals in mid-July.