By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
CLEVELAND — Left fielder Dustin Ackley, back atop the Seattle Mariners lineup, contends one popular view for the leadoff role — making a concerted effort to see pitches — is a counter-productive approach.
At least for him.
“In Triple-A when I started leading off,” he said, “I think it was (a matter of) getting those thoughts out of there. The more you tried to over-think being the leadoff hitter, and trying to see pitches, that’s when you get yourself in trouble.”
Ackley served as the Mariners’ leadoff hitter Wednesday for the second straight game. He was 3-for-5 in Tuesday’s victory when he filled the role for the first time since last season.
“I think you’ve just got to take it as no different from hitting second,” he said. “You’re going to see pitches when you see pitches. You’re going to get pitches to hit.
“It’s just a different spot. That’s it. Just take the same at-bats you’ve always been taking.”
Lately, Ackley’s at-bats have been, pretty much, exactly what the Mariners want to see. He entered Wednesday on a 30-for-77 surge (.390) since the calendar turned to July. His average has climbed from .214 to .256.
“This is the guy I envisioned him being,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Same swing. He’s getting hits. He’s attacking the outside pitch. He’s swinging at strikes, and he’s got some positive results.”
The secret, Ackley believes, is not only not trying to see more pitches … but simply not thinking at all once he gets into the batter’s box.
“The goal all year,” he said, “has been to get my swing to the point where I don’t have to think about it; where I can just go up there and hit. That’s where it’s been the last couple of weeks.
“That’s really the ultimate goal for me, to just clear my head and get up there.”
Left-hander James Paxton took another step toward an anticipated Saturday return to the rotation by reporting positive results from a 45-pitch bullpen workout.
“I was feeling great,” he said. “In my mind, I’m ready to compete.”
The Mariners are likely to wait until at least Thursday — to see whether Paxton experiences any day-after problems — before confirming plans to activate him after nearly four months on the disabled list.
“I’ve been waiting a long time,” he said. “To be able to go out there, throw as hard as I want and not have any pain at all, or any tightness the next day, is really good.”
Paxton exited an April 8 start against the Angels because of what was later diagnosed as a strained back muscle. A late May rehab assignment ended when he experienced shoulder soreness.
Now, he feels fine.
“Honestly, I thought it was going to be a shorter rehab than it ended up being,” Paxton said. “I had that little setback there that took some time. But I’m just happy to be back where I am right now. Feeling normal again.”
The Mariners can accommodate Paxton’s return from the 60-day disabled list on their 40-man roster but would need to make a corresponding move to create space on the 25-man active roster.
Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma reached the 2,000-inning milestone by pitching through the seventh in Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over the Indians. Counting 1,541 innings over 11 seasons in Japan, Iwakuma is now at 20032/3 for his career. … McClendon said he’s “hopeful” that outfielder Michael Saunders can begin a rehab assignment by the end of the weekend. Saunders took batting practice again in his recovery from a strained left oblique suffered July 10. … The Indians traded pitcher Justin Masterson to St. Louis before the game for outfielder James Ramsay.
Two of the Mariners’ top prospects, third baseman D.J. Peterson and outfielder Austin Wilson, returned Tuesday from injuries.
Peterson, 22, went 0-for-4 with a walk as the designated hitter in Double-A Jackson’s 2-1 loss at Mobile (Diamondbacks). He suffered a bruised left wrist last Saturday while fielding a grounder.
After starting the season at Hi-A High Desert, Peterson is batting .286 in 27 games at Jackson with five homers and 16 RBI. He was the Mariners’ first-round pick in 2013.
Wilson, 22, marked his return from a foot injury, which occurred June 24 at Lo-A Clinton, by hitting an inside-the-park homer in his second at-bat in a rehab start for Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League.
A second-round pick in 2013, Wilson was batting .298 at Clinton with 11 homers and 52 RBI in 65 games at the time of his injury.
It was 16 years ago Thursday — July 31, 1998 — that the Mariners traded left-hander Randy Johnson to Houston for infielder Carlos Guillen, right-hander Freddy Garcia and a player to be named later.
That PTBNL turned out to be left-hander John Halama.
There are many ways to evaluate a trade, but…
Johnson compiled a 62.6 WAR (wins above replacement) rating for the balance of his career following the trade. Garcia was 35.7, Guillen 27.7 and Halama 5.8 for a combined 69.2.
The Mariners and Indians conclude their three-game series at 4:05 p.m. Pacific time Thursday at Progressive Field. Right-hander Chris Young (9-6 with a 3.04 ERA) will oppose Cleveland righty Zach McAllister (3-6, 5.65).
Root Sports will broadcast the game.
The Mariners then head to Baltimore for three weekend games.