Even Mariners left fielder Dustin Ackley admits the swing that produced a key two-run single in Tuesday’s 6-3 victory over Toronto is one he was unlikely to execute earlier in the season.
“He gave me a fastball away that I was able to handle,” he said. “I dropped it right in the outfield. Earlier in the year, I might foul that pitch off. I might roll over that pitch. Now, I’m staying on it.”
The Mariners, leading 2-1 at the time, had runners on second and third with two outs in the fifth inning when Ackley served a 2-1 fastball from Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ into left field.
It was a prime example of a resurgent Ackley, who is batting .321 in 35 games since July 1. He has a .341 on-base percentage and a .489 slugging percentage in that span, which boosts his overall slash to .251/.296/.385.
“He hasn’t made any drastic changes,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s just found his groove, and he’s feeling good about what he’s doing.
“Hitting is a funny thing. Confidence has everything to do with being a good hitter. Right now, he’s about as confident as anybody we have. I think he’s finally starting to turn the corner.
“The last thing to come for a lot of young players is to realize you’re a major-league player. That you’ve arrived, and it’s OK to be good. I think he’s comfortable in his skin. I think he’s comfortable in what he’s doing.”
McClendon rarely gushes on any topic, but he makes an exception in assessing the ceiling for left-hander James Paxton, who will start Friday when the Mariners open a three-game weekend series at Detroit.
“He can get it to 99 (mph),” McClendon said, “and it’s effortless. He’s 6-7 with that (Clayton) Kershaw over-the-top (delivery). You just don’t see it. It’s a different angle, and it’s very difficult on hitters.
“I think this kid has greatness written all over him. He just needs to stay healthy.”
Paxton is 6 feet 4 but looks taller with his vertical, over-the-top delivery. He can push his fastball into the upper-90s. Kershaw is chasing a third Cy Young in four years, but Paxton is 5-0 with a 1.93 ERA in eight career starts.
“If you look at our rotation throughout the year,” McClendon said, “our five-hole has not been very successful. It’s been patchwork. This guy can patch it, and it doesn’t come loose.”
Paxton missed nearly four months because of a strained back muscle before returning Aug. 2 at Baltimore. He lasted just 4 1/3 innings against the Orioles but limited the White Sox to one run last Saturday in 6 1/3 innings.
Veteran right-hander Chris Young is a pop-up/fly-ball pitcher but tends to deflect the impact of a stadium’s dimensions in assessing his effectiveness.
“Regardless of where I am,” he said, “I try to make good pitches. I’ve had good games in hitters’ parks, and I’ve had bad games in pitchers’ parks. It’s about going out and making good pitches.
“It’s not the ballpark that makes the player. It’s the way the player performs.”
Even so, Young excels at Safeco Field, which is not only spacious but often tends to work against fly balls.
Young is 8-3 with a 2.35 ERA this season in 13 home starts but just 3-3 with a 4.00 ERA in 11 road starts. Also, he is 11-3 with a 2.77 ERA in 17 career starts at Safeco. He is 53-46 and 3.81 in his other 166 career games.
Plans for Saunders
Outfielder Michael Saunders is expected to resume his rehab assignment Thursday at Triple-A Tacoma after missing two games to be present for the birth of his second child.
Saunders, 27, is recovering from a strained left oblique suffered July 10 on a swing in a 4-2 loss to Minnesota at Safeco Field. He is 6-for-17 in five games at Tacoma, which is currently playing in New Orleans (Marlins).
McClendon said Saunders isn’t ready to return to active duty.
“He’s got to go get some at-bats,” McClendon said. “Michael and I have had that conversation. He texted me the other day and said, ‘I’m ready.’ I said, ‘Good. Keep playing.’ ”
Mariners on TBS
A sign of the Mariners’ improving fortunes: TBS added Sunday’s game at Detroit to its broadcast schedule.
The game, which starts at 10:08 a.m. Pacific time, will be shown in the Tacoma/Seattle area, which means fans will have a choice: Catch TBS or stick with the Mariners’ regular crew on Root Sports.
Ernie Johnson and Ron Darling will handle the TBS broadcast.
Lefty Roenis Elias, after pitching five hitless innings Wednesday for Tacoma at New Orleans, is slotted to return to the big-league rotation Monday in Philadelphia. ... McClendon got his 400th managerial victory Tuesday when the Mariners beat Toronto 6-3. Asked afterward for a reaction, he quipped: “I’ll talk to you when I get to a thousand.” McClendon was 336-446 as the manager at Pittsburgh from 2001-05. ... First baseman Logan Morrison entered Wednesday with a 13-game hitting streak that matched a career high previously set in 2011 with the Marlins. He was 15-for-45 in his surge, which raised his average from .201 to .230. ... The Mariners’ win Wednesday’s pushed their record to 65-55, the first time the team had been 10 games over .500e since finishing the 2007 season at 88-74.
The Mariners have an open date Thursday before starting a nine-game trip that consists of three-game series at Detroit, Philadelphia and Boston. Plans call for lefty James Paxton (2-0, 2.38 ERA) to oppose Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello (13-7, 3.11) at 4:08 p.m. (PDT) Friday in the first of three weekend games at Comerica Park.