Eric Wedge is still waiting for wins and runs. Since returning from a month-long recovery from a mild stroke, the Mariners manager has yet to walk out of the dugout at Safeco Field and shake hands with his players following a victory.
It didn’t on Sunday. The Mariners managed just one run once again in a 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 this season, and scoring just two runs in 27 innings is 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 of the team and of its once-promising prospect.
Dustin Ackley was responsible Seattle’s solitary run. He gave the Mariners a brief 1-0 lead, blasting a solo home run to right-center off of Angels' starter Jered Weaver on a 3-2 curveball.
“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 till 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 booking it around there.”
It was just Ackley’s second big league homer of the season. The other was a grand slam in Toronto on May 5. Since that time, he’s been optioned to Triple A Tacoma for hitting troubles and converted from second base to the outfield.
Ackley also hadn’t homered at Safeco Field since July 31 of 2012.
The Mariners never envisioned Ackley as a big-time power hitter when they selected him with the second overall pick of the 2009 draft. But they did think he might be able hit anywhere from 12-15 homers as he progressed with his ability lash line drives into the gaps. Ackley certainly believes 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 barreling up balls.”
Ackley also had a sharp double in the eighth inning to go 2-for-3 on the day. In the 26 games he’s played in since the all-star break, Ackley is hitting .330 (30-for-91) with eight doubles, a triple, a homer and nine RBI. Ten of the 18 extra base hits he has on the 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 think before I kind of got caught up in: I’m not trusting in my swing because I'm not hitting doubles, not hitting homers,” he said.
It made Ackley passive and it 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. Liked we talked about, he’s a hitter, and he’s going to be hitter.”
Ackley feels more like the guy that played so well when he was called up in 2011. He’s aggressive and going after pitches and driving them.
“I feel like this is how it used to feel, to be honest,” he 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.”
Ackley’s homer and 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 possible double play. Instead, he 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 elusive third out, the Angels had scored four runs. And with the way the Mariners have been hitting, it was four runs too many.
Any foolish thoughts of a Mariners’ comeback were crushed in the seventh inning. Once again, Harang got the first two outs of the inning quickly and couldn’t get the third without damage. Grant Green singled, Peter 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. 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 starting 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 line-up flipped over they came out swinging early.”
Weaver (8-7) got the win, pitching eight innings and giving up the one run on three hits with eight strikeouts and no walks.