BY John Hickey 02:29PM 04/24/2011

Cust’s April slump earns a day off

Designated hitter has more RBIs with walks (four) than with hits (two) and is averaging just .171 in a very slow start.

Jack Cust finally got a day off on Sunday / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

For just the third time in 23 games, Jack Cust wasn’t in the lineup as the Mariner designated hitter Sunday against Oakland.

Manager Eric Wedge has to be hoping the day off (Ichiro Suzuki served as the DH in Cust’s absence) will help Cust get his game together. He’s got a .171 batting average and has just one hit, a double back on April 8. His slugging percentage of .186 is the worst for any fulltime DH by more than 130 points.

Not to mention Cust’s 25 strikeouts and the 3-for-30 slide he’s on with all three of the hits grounders – no line drives. It’s that last bit that is important; he’s not hitting the ball hard at all.

“He’s been a little bit off,’’ Wedge said in a masterful bit of understatement. “He’s working at it.  I think he feels like he’s getting a little bit closer. We are not seeing the results we want to see from Jack right now. And obviously being in the middle of the lineup, we want to see him get it going.

“I’ve had conversations with him. I will continue to have conversations with him. I think he’s still confident and still feels like it’s going to come. I still feel like it’s going to come for him.’’

Wedge said it was more “about approach and feel and timing’’ than it was about messed up mechanics.

One thing that is obvious is that Cust is letting pitches go by, pitches he would normally take a good healthy rip at. He has 16 walks to rank among the league leaders, and four of those have come with the bases loaded.

“He’s always been kind of an exacting type hitter,’’ Wedge said. “He’s always had a great eye. I think it sticks out more now because he is struggling.

“(Still), I’d like to see him be a little bit more aggressive at times. But I think part of him getting himself going is walking that line. He has a reputation of having a very good eye. I think ultimately have to see where you are right now and make some adjustments. You can’t be too stubborn with it.’’

LOST CATCH GRINDS AT SAUNDERS: Mariner center fielder Michael Saunders was none too pleased with himself that he failed to make a diving catch in the fourth inning Saturday that wound up costing starting pitcher Jason Vargas three runs, in the process turning a 1-1 game into a huge 4-1 advantage for the Oakland A’s.

Saunders concedes that a diving catch is more difficult than your standard catch, but not all dives are alike.

“When you talk about degree of difficulty for a dive, that wasn’t that tough,’’ Saunders said Sunday morning. “That’s a catch I expect myself to make. I should have caught that ball.’’

As it was, the ball glanced off Saunders’ glove, then glanced off his body for a single, with A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki scoring from second base to break the tie. The next pitch from Vargas was hit out by Oakland shortstop Cliff Pennington, and that was pretty much the game, Oakland going on to an eventual 9-1 win.

“I had to dive, but the ball was more than a foot off the ground when I got to it,’’ Saunders said, explaining that when a line drive holds up that far off the ground the catch becomes easier. It’s when the ball is just inches off the grass that things become difficult.

“That’s a catchable ball,’’ he said. “It just is.’’

NOTES: Ichiro basically got half a day off Sunday, serving as DH with Wedge reasoning that keeping Ichiro off his feet Sunday coupled with the off day Monday – the team is flying to Detroit – might serve his right fielder well after an unusually long (for April) stretch of 17 consecutive days with games. … The 17-day stretch served “to test our toughness,’’ Wedge said. “But there are some positives. It makes it easy to get everybody a chance to play.’’ … Milton Bradley was back in the lineup batting third Sunday. It’s been a tough week for the left fielder, who got a day off Wednesday, was scratched from the Thursday lineup because of stomach pain, started but came out of Friday’s game after two innings with back pain and missed Saturday’s game with the back pain lingering. … Closer David Aardsma (left hip surgery) has joined Triple-A Tacoma on the road in Salt Lake City to continue his injury rehabilitation assignment. He could be with the team sometime in the next week or so. … Setup reliever Shawn Kelley will travel with the team to Detroit and Boston this week to continue working toward a June comeback from his right elbow ligament replacement (Tommy John) surgery. … Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez will travel with the team Monday to Detroit, the team wants to be able to monitor his progress as he attempts to add weight after a long battle with what has finally been diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome. … Reliever Justin Miller has left the Tacoma Rainiers and the Mariner organization. He had a May 1 opt-out date in his contract, and the Mariners told him if he wanted to leave early he could.

Twitter: @JHickey3


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