PEORIA, Ariz. — Dustin Ackley lost count of how many baseball games he has played since he signed with the Seattle Mariners nearly 14 months ago.
“It was close to 160, not counting spring training and going to the Fall League last year,” he said this week as he prepared for another five weeks of baseball with the Peoria Javelinas of the Arizona Fall League.
The difference now compared with last month or even last year is that for the first time as a pro, Ackley comes back from a nice, long period of rest and relaxation.
Well, long for him.
After the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers finished their season Sept. 21, Ackley got nearly two weeks off before he reported to Peoria last week. He was scheduled to start at second base for the Javelinas on Tuesday in their Fall League opener against the Surprise Rafters.
Since being selected with the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, and signing on Aug. 17 last year, Ackley’s only real time off was a few days during the holidays last winter.
Besides the 134 regular-season games he played this year for Class AA West Tennessee and AAA Tacoma, he has worked out nearly nonstop since the Mariners decided last fall to convert him from outfield to second base.
That’s the main reason he wasn’t one of the Mariners’ minor-league callups last month. While Tacoma teammates Justin Smoak, Matt Mangini and Greg Halman finished the season with Seattle, Ackley went back to North Carolina and kicked back.
“I just stayed at home and relaxed for the most part,” he said. “Just hung out with the family and talked with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. When I got home, I just wanted to relax and not worry about baseball and rest my body.”
Ackley held up well during the season — he batted a combined .267 with 48 extra-base hits and a .368 on-base percentage at West Tennessee and Tacoma, and fitness testing showed he actually got stronger through the year.
Pedro Grifol, the Mariners’ minor league director, calls Ackley a baseball junkie who embraces all that time on the field. Still, the kid needed a break by the end of September.
“I can’t remember the last time I had a rest,” Ackley said. “It was probably before I signed that I actually had a time when I didn’t have to do anything. I felt like my body needed that. This was the first time I’d played more than 70-some games in a season. It was important for me to get that rest and get baseball out of my mind.”
How did he get through not only his first pro season, but the longest stretch of baseball in his life?
“The biggest part was figuring out how to get my rest,” Ackley said. “I had to get into a routine where my body felt best. It wasn’t really the working out. It was more getting adjusted to everything — dealing with the travel, playing the night of a day you travel, or having a red-eye that night. That was probably the biggest key for me, just learning how to get rest and learning how to maintain.”
The next five weeks in the Fall League will be a relative breeze, with a 32-game schedule, one day off a week and the longest bus ride being about an hour away in Mesa.
The Fall League will be an important test, however, in Ackley’s conversion to second base.
“I still feel I have a long way to go as far as learning the position, getting more comfortable turning the double plays,” he said.
The Mariners also want Ackley to steal more bases, and last week he worked one-on-one in Peoria with Mariners first-base coach Mike Brumley.
“He talked a little bit about the baserunning and stealing,” said Ackley, who stole 10 bases in 13 attempts at West Tennessee and Tacoma. “They want me to steal a lot more. I had a little bit of hamstring soreness throughout the year that prevented me from being more aggressive than I’d liked to be.
“Other than that, he hit me some ground balls at second base and gave me some tips about double plays, arm angles, that kind of stuff. It’s stuff I’d heard before but it’s a matter of getting it down and doing it on a consistent basis.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog.