PEORIA, Ariz. - When they trimmed their in-camp number by five on Wednesday, the Seattle Mariners sent their most acclaimed rookie position player to Tacoma - second baseman Dustin Ackley.
“You can’t be surprised by anything in this game, you have to be prepared,” Ackley said. “It’s a process. I made a lot of improvements in camp, in all three areas – hitting, defense and baserunning.”
Ackley, 23, is a confident player who was hardly overwhelmed by spring pitching. In 15 games, 26 at-bats, he hit .269 with an on-base percentage of .441.
“He gives you a great at-bat,” manager Eric Wedge said. “You look at him up there and you can see he’s comfortable, confident.”
Starting a season in Tacoma doesn’t mean Ackley will be a Rainier long. As far as he’s concerned, any time the Mariners call, he’ll answer.
“I feel like I can play here right now, but I can get better at second base” said Ackley, who only began playing the position last year. “I can be better, but I think I could handle it now.
“Whenever they call, I’ll be ready. Like I was telling a coach today, I don’t know how I did it a year ago, when I’d never played second base. I’m a lot better now than then.
“What they want me to do is just get better, play more games, get more reps. I can’t be negative about being sent down. I understand,” Ackley said.
OFF TO MINORS
Along with Ackley, other Mariners re-assigned to minor-league camp were catcher Steven Baron, infielder Sean Kazmar, outfielder Gabe Gross and left-handed pitcher Fabio Cruz.
None was expected to make the team, although Gross was among the early candidates for a reserve outfield spot.
Rookie Baron was realistic.
“I stayed this long because Miguel (Olivo) was hurt, I understand that, but I got a lot of exposure, a lot more opportunity, and I’m happy with that,” Baron said. “I think I showed them how much I’ve improved. I’ve come a long way as a catcher.”
Then the 20-year-old dropped the line of the day.
“I had a lot of fun in big-league camp,” he said. “It’s definitely more fun that minor-league camp – there’s unlimited food here!”
Jason Vargas got his work in during a minor-league game Wednesday, throwing five innings and stretching out to 89 pitches, and declared himself ready for 2011.
“I’m ready now, but I’ll do some fine-tuning in my last spring start and then start preparing to face Oakland,” Vargas said.
Vargas threw his new, improved curveball for strikes, and after giving up three runs in the first three innings, buzzed through the final two innings on 29 pitches.
Afterward, the Vargas family brought down the Seattle clubhouse.
Vargas emerged from the training room with the usual ice pack on his left shoulder – and so did his two-year-old son, Joshua.
“It’s his first ice pack,” Vargas said proudly.
The kicker? Joshua wore his ice on his left shoulder, just like dad. Except Joshua throws right-handed.
The Mariners’ starting lineup in a 6-5 loss against Colorado was a bit historic, in that it included three players with the same last name – Wilson. Jack, Josh and Mike all were in Seattle’s order. The last time that occurred, according to Stats Inc., was on Aug. 23, 1983, when Texas had the Nelson boys (Rickey, Jamie and Gene) playing. Can’t get enough spring baseball? The Mariners play a day-night, split-squad doubleheader on Friday – and both games will be televised. The afternoon game against the Cubs is on MLB Network, the evening contest with the Dodgers will be televised by FSN.
The Mariners play host to the Kansas City Royals in a 1:05 p.m. game today. Probable starting pitchers: Bruce Chen vs. Seattle’s Doug Fister.