SEATTLE — After Franklin Gutierrez’s outfield workout didn’t go well Tuesday afternoon, the Mariners were forced into yet another roster move.
Summoned from Triple-A Tacoma to replace Gutierrez, Dustin Ackley packed his stuff, bolted Cheney Stadium and began the uphill battle that is northbound I-5 traffic after 4 p.m.
He may have been the happiest commuter. After being sent down to the minors May 26 with a .205 average in tow, Ackley was going back to the clubhouse most figured he would never leave after his initial arrival in 2011.
Ackley, head freshly shaved and beard well-grizzled, was on the first-base foul line in time for the national anthem. His only duty in the two games he’s been back with the Mariners was to pinch run, but he is likely to be in the outfield Friday.
Ackley tore up Triple A, hitting .365 in his 25 games with the Rainiers. Many of his outs were line drives and he drove them to all fields. Mostly, he says, he uncluttered his mind.
“I think I probably chilled out more mentally, is really what it
comes down to,” Ackley said. “I think there was so much going on in my head before, I don’t really think it was a major swing thing.
“I think it was less my swing and more what was going on mentally, just getting up to the plate and mentally worrying about making the first out on the first pitch or whatever it was, and I think once I separated that and just started this tunnel vision on what I needed to be focusing on, I think that’s when things started going really well.”
Ackley had previously moved away from the swing changes he worked to instill during spring training. He thinks things started to clear up for him right before he was sent to Tacoma.
“After I got the first games under my belt, it felt like everything just took off from there,” Ackley said. “Mentally, I just felt great as far as getting up to the plate expecting to get a hit and feeling great in the box, in any count, ready to hit and I think that’s the biggest thing. When I was here (with the Mariners) before, it was kind of passive – take a pitch here, take a pitch there, not ready to hit and I think really that’s what separated me from now and before I got sent down.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge consistently said he thought Ackley’s approach needed to be better. He also made a comment about the negative influence of sabermetrics on Ackley’s thought process in the batter’s box which inflamed proponents of the somewhat arcane analysis of baseball. Ackley again explained he thought passivity was the main culprit in his struggles that produced a .516 OPS, a meager total in the sabermetric statistic that combines a player’s on-base percentage and slugging average.
“I don’t really look at the sabermetric stuff,” Ackley said. “If you’re not playing well, you’re not playing well. I don’t care if sabermetrics say you are or you’re not.
“I feel like I’m in a great position now, where I feel great in the box every time I step in there; I don’t feel like I’m an out anymore. I feel like I’m competing up there, where it was before wasn’t necessarily like that.”
Wedge said Tuesday the Mariners will use Ackley in the outfield, and that they will have “no hesitation” in doing so. He may also see infield work, on occasion. Ackley said having his position switched previously — when he moved to second from first base and limited outfield duty in college — will help with the transition.
Honing reads and routes will be key to becoming comfortable in the outfield, in addition to the increased running and throwing distances. He played nine games in center field and three in left for the Rainiers. Tacoma manager John Stearns called Ackley’s outfield defense “adequate,” adding he thought it could become above average.
“For me, it’s just getting the time in outfield in (batting practice) and the games and it hasn’t felt as bad as I thought it would feel,” Ackley said. “I thought I would be pretty lost out there. But, it hasn’t felt too bad. I think it’s probably going to continue to get better.
“So, it’s definitely a change, but it’s one that I’m willing to make. Now, I’m here and ready to play where they want me to.”
In truth, the major change the Mariners are seeking for Ackley is with the bat. He was the No. 2 overall pick in 2009 and universally labeled as someone who would hit at all levels. His defense was initially questioned, then he became an American League Gold Glove finalist last season at second.
But, his offensive stats continued to drop from his debut season in 2011 when he hit .273 and finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting.
The Utopian comparison for the 25-year-old Ackley would be the turnaround of Kansas City’s Alex Gordon. Gordon, also a former No. 2 pick, hit .215 in his fourth season in the majors, when he was 26. Gordon was sent down that year before blossoming the following season when he hit .303 with 23 home runs and 45 doubles. He followed that season with another 51 doubles. The Mariners can only hope for that kind of resurrection from Ackley.firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @Todd_Dybas