OF Dustin Ackley found himself at the center of the Mariners’ woes with runners in scoring position Wednesday in a 4-2 loss to the San Diego Padres at Safeco Field.
It wasn’t all Ackley’s fault.
The Mariners (15-18), who entered 11th in the American League hitting with runners in scoring position (.234 average), finished 1-for-13, leaving 10 on base. That takes a group effort.
Still, Ackley had a batting average south of the Mendoza line, went 1-for-4 and improved to .200. The downside: the former No. 2 overall pick left five on base and three times failed to deliver with men in scoring position, before leading off the ninth with a single against Padres closer Craig Kimbrel.
He came around to score when DH Brad Miller hit a double. Kimbrel then struck out Robinson Cano, the potential tying run, to end the game.
Miller also added a 436-foot home run into The ‘Pen in the fifth inning to cut San Diego’s lead to 2-1. He went 2-for-4 with a walk, two RBIs and a run, lifting his average to .250.
Again, Ackley wasn’t the sole reason the Mariners failed to extend a season-high four-game winning streak. But his inability to come through reinforced the emerging reality that he is the least untouchable player among the club’s regulars. It’s not a coincidence that Miller is frantically learning to play outfield after starting the season at shortstop.
After the game, manager Lloyd McClendon was asked if he would consider playing Miller in the outfield.
“I’m getting close, yeah,” he said.
In the sixth inning, the Mariners were primed to deliver the knockout blow when Ackley came up with one out and runners on first and second, trailing 2-1. Padres starter James Shields (5-0) walked two to begin the inning before striking out Mike Zunino. He was at 112 pitches.
Ackley quickly jumped ahead 2-0, then chased a Shields fastball a few inches off the plate.
The result: A 6-3 double play to prolong Ackley’s tough start to 2015.
“The positive is we got (runners) out there,” McClendon said. “The negative is we couldn’t get them in. That guy on the mound had a lot to do with it, too . . . had him on the brink a few times. Just couldn’t get the big hit today to get us over the hump.”
In the second, Ackley also grounded out after Zunino doubled. But McClendon said he sees progress over the past few games from the North Carolina native, a notorious slow starter, after a recent 20-game stretch when he hit .122 (6-for-49). With Austin Jackson on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle until at least until Tuesday, the Mariners seem like they’ll stick with Ackley for now.
Afterward, Miller didn’t sound ready to move to outfield.
“I have zero experience, but it’s definitely farther out there,” he said of making the switch. “That’s the only thing I do know.
“I’m just trying to stick with (outfield coach) Andy Van Slyke and whatever’s on my plate, take advantage and get it done.”
Wednesday, Ackley started in center field for the sixth time this season. In the sixth, he made a nice running catch at the wall on a deep Justin Upton fly ball, a night after making a sliding catch at the warning track.
“I think his last four or five games have been better, more consistent,” McClendon said of Ackley’s hitting approach. “He got a big base hit tonight for us. He did a nice job.”
But . . .
“Obviously you want more production,” he added. “I don’t think it’s going to come overnight. We got to keep grinding it out with him. But he’s getting better, trending in the right direction.”
So is right-hander Taijuan Walker (1-4), according to McClendon. Walker allowed two runs on four hits and a walk over six innings while striking out six. His ERA dropped to 7.22. He remains winless in six career starts at Safeco Field.
The third inning cost him. Will Middlebrooks started with a towering solo homer. Alexi Amarista then doubled and eventually came around to score on a sacrifice fly from Cory Spangenberg to make it 2-0. In the seventh, the Padres tacked on a run when former Mariners CF Abraham Almonte checked in with an RBI single. A wild pitch from Carson Smith scored Spangenberg in the eighth.
The Mariners challenged Shields in the fourth when Nelson Cruz led off with a single. After Kyle Seager hit into a fielder’s choice, Logan Morrison crushed a single back up the middle. Zunino and then Ackley struck out.
Jackson, on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained right ankle, took batting practice and ran Tuesday. He isn’t ready to go out on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma, but the hope is he will this weekend. He is eligible to come off the disabled list Tuesday. “Just so-so,” McClendon said of Jackson’s workout. “It wasn’t great. The running part was a tick below average. It was his first time out with cleats on, running the bases. So you expect it to be a little stiff. He actually swung the bat OK.”