By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Mariners left fielder Dustin Ackley knows what it’s like to feel lost at the plate and, while his .229 average isn’t what he wants, he’s not feeling lost at the moment.
“I’ve had a couple of games when I didn’t get any hits,” he said. “But I had a couple of three-hit games (last week) in Houston and a two-hit game (Sunday) in Chicago.
“I don’t think I’m on any bad stretch here by any means.”
Even so, Ackley found himself on the bench Thursday for the second straight night against an opposing right-handed pitcher when the Mariners closed out their four-game series against Minnesota.
“I’d like to see him be more aggressive at the plate,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We’ve talked about it. At times, he is more aggressive. Other times, he’s very passive.
“One thing I’m starting to learn is he’s a very streaky hitter. We have to ride the hot streaks, and pick and choose when he’s not swinging very well. He’s a very talented individual, but I need to see it every day. Not spurts.”
That hasn’t happened.
Ackley opened the season by batting .293 through the first 17 games. Then came a 0-for-17 stretch with 10 strikeouts that dropped him to .227. Next, he batted .282 over 24 games before dipping to .144 over 28 games.
July promised better when Ackley opened the month with those successive three-hit games at Houston and raised his average from .214 to .231. He’s 3-for-15 since then.
“I don’t see myself as a .220 hitter by any means,” Ackley said. “I think I’ve been through some stretches this year where I’ve hit how I’m capable (of hitting). It’s just about being consistent. That’s what this game is…
“I’ve been in bad things before, and right now doesn’t feel like one of those times. Maybe being consistent, that hasn’t been there. But I don’t think it’s been as crazy as maybe everybody thinks it’s been.”
The three-game weekend series against first-place Oakland, which opens Friday, matches the American League’s top two pitching staffs — at least in terms of ERA.
By a pretty wide margin, too. (Stats through Wednesday.)
Overall ERA: The A’s and Mariners rank one-two at 3.10 and 3.18. Kansas City was a distant third at 3.67.
Rotation ERA: The A’s and Mariners again rank one-two at 3.19 and 3.55. Kansas City is third at 3.76.
Bullpen ERA: The Mariners ranked first at 2.38, followed by the A’s at 2.93. Cleveland was third at 2.99.
The Mariners are anticipation larger-than-usual crowds for the series against the A’s but — at this point, anyway — nothing approaching a sellout.
Friday is expected to approach 30,000 for a King’s Court night with a start by Felix Hernandez.
The Hisashi Iwakuma bobblehead giveaway on Saturday night, when Iwakuma is pitching, is expected to draw 35,000 or more. Sunday afternoon’s series final projects at 25,000-plus.
Lefty reliever Lucas Luetge, as expected, was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma prior to Thursday’s game after the Mariners optioned right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor back to the Rainiers.
Luetge, 27, is making his third appearance this season on the big-league roster but has pitched primarily at Tacoma, where he is 3-1 with two saves and a 3.40 ERA in 39 2/3 innings in 26 outings.
Pryor, 27, heads back to the minors just one day after his recall from Tacoma. He allowed one unearned run in 1 1/3 innings in Wednesday’s 8-1 loss to the Twins.
Tom Wilhelmsen made his first start for the Mariners after 190 relief appearances. No other pitcher has pitched in that many games for the club prior to making his first start. Dwayne Henry (225) and Luis DeLeon (206) made more relief appearances before getting their first start as a Mariner, but the majority of their bullpen appearances came with other teams…The Mariners entered Thursday with one hit in their last 30 opportunities with runners in scoring position…The Mariners, at 49-42, also started the night needing one victory in four games to reach 50 prior to the All-Star Game for the first time since 2003.
How much longer will veteran reliever Todd Coffey remain at Tacoma?
Coffey, 33, has a 1.29 ERA in 15 outings for the Rainiers in his efforts to rebuild is career after missing all of last season following reconstructive-elbow surgery.
The Mariners signed Coffey on May 20 to a minor-league contract, but his deal allows him to opt out if presented with a big-league opportunity. He has a 4.10 ERA in 461 games in eight big-league seasons with four clubs.
Mystery Grab Bags
Love a good mystery? The annual Mystery Grab Bag charity event, run by the Mariners’ wives, takes place at Friday’s game against the A’s at Safeco Field.
Here’s how it works: You shell out $50 for a sealed grab bag. Inside will be a baseball autographed by one of the Mariners players or manager Lloyd McClendon.
Proceeds benefit Mariners Care, the club’s non-profit foundation that supports primarily youth-oriented charities throughout the Pacific Northwest.
It was 35 years ago Friday — July 11, 1979 — that Tom Paciorek went 4-for-4 in a 16-1 romp over the New York Yankees at the Kingdome. The 16 runs were, at the time, a franchise record.
The Yankees were two-time defending World Series champions, but the Mariners chased Tommy John with a nine-run first inning. The Mariners finished with 16 hits and got three RBIs from Paciorek and Mario Mendoza.
The Mariners’ current record for runs is 22 vs. Detroit on April 29, 1999.
Floyd Bannister pitched a three-hitter in a complete-game victory.
The Mariners close out the pre-break portion of their schedule with a three-game series against division-leading Oakland that begins at 7:10 p.m. Friday at Safeco Field.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (10-2 with a 2.11 ERA) will face A’s right-hander Jeff Samardzija (1-0, 1.29). Root Sports will broadcast the game.
The series continues Saturday night before concluding Sunday afternoon. The Mariners then get a four-day break for the All-Star Game before resuming their season July 18 against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif.