Eric Wedge is still waiting for runs and wins.
In three games Since returning as manager of the Seattle Mariners after a month-long recovery from a mild stroke, he has yet to walk out of the dugout at Safeco Field and shake hands with his players following a win.
Sunday was no different after the Mariners’ 7-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
“Not a great re-entry for myself here,” Wedge said with a forced chuckle.
Getting swept at home in a three-game series for the first time this season, and scoring a total of two runs in 27 innings, was far from enjoyable.
“Our guys are better than what we’ve been seeing,” Wedge said.
It’s difficult to imagine anything beneficial coming from yet another nondescript loss in a season filled with them, but the Mariners’ one run offered a little hope for future success for the team and its once-promising prospect Dustin Ackley.
Ackley was responsible Seattle’s solitary run when he blasted a 3-2 curveball from Angels starter Jered Weaver over the wall in right-center field for a home run in the third inning. That gave the Mariners a brief 1-0 lead.
“It felt great,” Ackley said. “I was telling somebody when I came into the dugout that it felt pretty weird jogging around the bases. I haven’t done that in a while.”
It might not be called jogging with how fast Ackley circled the bases.
“It wasn’t until the ball went out (that) I realized it was a homer,” Ackley said. “I didn’t think right away that ball was going out, especially when you haven’t hit one in a while. I was (running fast) around there.”
It was Ackley’s second big league homer of the season. The other was a grand slam in Toronto on May 4. Since then, he has been optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to find a cure for his hitting troubles and to be converted from second baseman to outfielder.
Ackley hadn’t homered at Safeco Field since July 31, 2012.
The Mariners never envisioned Ackley as a big-time power threat when they selected him with the second overall pick of the 2009 amateur draft. But they did think he might be able hit 12-15 homers a season when he developed his ability to hit line drives into the gaps. Ackley certainly thinks he is more than a singles hitter.
“You definitely want to hit balls into the gap and you want to occasionally hit homers,” he said. “I think that comes with time and barrelling up (on) balls.”
Ackley was 2-for-3, which included a sharp double in the eighth inning. In his 26 games since the All-Star break, Ackley is hitting .330 (30-for-91) with eight doubles, a triple, a homer and nine RBI. Ten of his 18 extra-base hits this season have come in that span.
“It’s been encouraging to see. Good for him,” Wedge said. “He’s come a long way and he’s had to do it the hard way. A lot of that is on him, and I’m impressed with the way he’s handled it and fought through it.”
Part of the recovery was fighting uncertainty in himself and in his swing.
“I’m not trusting in my swing because I’m not hitting doubles, not hitting homers,” he said.
The problems made Ackley passive and that drove Wedge crazy.
“That’s not his personality,” Wedge said. “I don’t know where the hell that came from because that wasn’t his way when he first came up here. He just got himself into some sort of funk and it’s just taken him some time to fight through it. Like we talked about, he’s a hitter, and he’s going to be a hitter.”
Ackley is starting to feel more like the guy who played so well when he was called up to the majors in 2011. He’s aggressively going after pitches and driving them.
“I feel like this is how it used to feel, to be honest,” Ackley said. “It’s just getting up there and expecting to barrel the ball up no matter where it’s pitched. That’s the hitter I believe I was and I believe I am now. If I continue to go on that same path I don’t see any reason it won’t continue.”
The Mariners’ 1-0 lead was quickly erased a half-inning later when Seattle starter Aaron Harang fell apart in the fourth.
After getting two quick outs, Harang gave up back-to-back doubles to Josh Hamilton and Mark Trumbo. He intentionally walked Hank Conger to set up a force play, but instead gave up a two-run triple to Chris Nelson to right field.
“Off the bat, I thought it was going to slice a little more,” Harang said. “But it landed right on the line. Once you release the ball and it’s not in the spot you wanted, it’s kind of out of your control.”
Grant Green followed with an infield single to score another run.
When Harang finally struck out Peter Bourjos for the third out, the Angels had scored four runs. And with the way the Mariners have been hitting, it was four runs too many.
Thoughts of a rally from the Mariners were crushed in the seventh inning. Once again, Harang got the first two outs quickly and couldn’t get the third without damage. Green singled, Bourjos scored him with a triple and then Harang (5-11) served up a two-run homer to Kole Calhoun on a 3-2 change-up to make it 7-1. Wedge couldn’t watch any more and lifted Harang.
“The problem was all the runs came with two outs and nobody on in both of those innings,” Wedge said. “He’s a veteran pitcher and he has to be able to shut that down and get that final out. (He threw) some bad misses in the middle and they squared up some balls.”
Harang didn’t allow a run for the first three innings, striking out five batters. But the Angels changed their approach and started swinging early in the count.
“They started to be aggressive and swing at first pitches,” Harang said. “I was throwing first-pitch strikes early in the game and getting them behind, and then getting them to chase pitches. I think once the lineup flipped over they came out swinging early.”
Weaver (8-7) got the win, pitching eight innings and giving up one run on three hits with eight strikeouts and no walks.