HOUSTON — A weekend trip to Minute Maid Park is just what Mariners outfielder Dustin Ackley needed to break out of a September mini-slide.
Ackley powered two homers Friday, one to each field, in helping the Mariners to a 10-5 victory over Houston in the series opener. He also had a walk and scored three runs.
“For some reason,” he said, “this park feels good. The infield and outfield are fast, the dimensions are a lot more doable than other parks we play in.
“The ball I hit to left for the homer (which tied the game in the third inning), I’ve hit some of those balls in Seattle and they’re easily caught. So it gets your confidence level up.”
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Ackley arrived at Minute Maid in a 2-for-16 skid over five games since returning from a sore left ankle that surfaced Sept. 6 at Texas.
“I would say probably (the last few days) are kind of the first times I haven’t thought about it,” he admitted. “Just going on and off the field going after balls in the gaps, running the bases or whatever, it’s nice to not have to worry about it.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon remains cautious; he chose to rest Ackley on Saturday against Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel with the series set to conclude with a Sunday afternoon game.
“You’ve got to realize we travel by plane,” McClendon said, “and that usually causes problems in itself when you have a bum ankle or something (similar). It’s a quick turnaround (for Sunday’s game).
“And he was limping a little bit (Friday) night. That concerned me a little bit. I really want him for (Sunday’s) game. And he doesn’t hit hit this guy (Keuchel) very well at all. It’s a chance to get him off his ankle.
“And then we do have that turf (for four games next week in Toronto). That scares the heck out of me.”
Still, Ackley’s career-long success at Minute Maid is hard to ignore. He is batting .390 (23-for-59) in 16 career games here with a .439 on-base percentage and a .610 slugging percentage.
Crunch it a little more: Ackley has a tOPS+ of 207 at Minute Maid, which measures a player’s OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) relative to his total OPS.
In short: Ackley is more than twice as productive at Minute Maid as he is overall throughout his career.
“Sometimes you come to a park,” he said, “and it’s just one of those places where you get a good feeling about it. That’s pretty much the way it was (on Friday). And definitely my foot and ankle feeling a lot better is huge, too.
“I don’t have to try to overcompensate for something that’s not there. It was just an all-around good day for everybody.”
ZUNINO IN 20-20 CLUB
Mike Zunino had a double Friday in addition to his howitzer-shot homer. In doing so, he joined the 20-20 club: 20 doubles, 21 homers.
Not only is he the first catcher in club history to achieve that distinction; he is also the fourth-youngest catcher, at 23 years and 186 days, to do so in major-league history.
Two of the others are Hall of Famers. Johnny Bench was younger than Zunino when he did it in 1969 and 1970 for Cincinnati, and Gary Carter was younger when he did it in 1977 for Montreal.
The other 20-20 catcher younger than Zunino is no slouch: Seven-time All-Star Brian McCann, currently with the Yankees, did it in 2006 for Atlanta.
CHEERING ON DETROIT
Nearly all of the Mariners clustered around clubhouse television sets prior to batting practice in order to watch Detroit close out a 3-2 victory in Kansas City.
There were more than a few cheers when the game ended; the Royals’ loss pulled the Mariners, prior to their game, into a tie for the American League’s final Wild Card spot.
“It’s fun to be able to watch games that have an effect on you,” McClendon said. “It’s like I told our players, it’s not often that you get the opportunity to be in these positions. Cherish them. Enjoy the journey.
“I’ve been on the other side when you’re just trying to finish September and get the (heck) out of town. That’s not a lot of fun. Trust me, this is a lot of fun. Playing meaningful games. Being in it. This is special.”
The tentative pitching match-ups are set for next week’s four-game series against the Blue Jays in Toronto:
*Monday: Lefty James Paxton (6-3 with a 2.06 ERA) vs. Toronto lefty J.A. Happ (9-11, 4.35) at 4:07 p.m. Pacific time.
*Tuesday: Right-hander Felix Hernandez (14-5, 2.07) vs. Toronto right-hander R.A. Dickey (13-12, 3.82) at 4:07 p.m. Pacific time.
*Wednesday: Right-hander Taijuan Walker (2-2, 3.00) vs. Toronto lefty Mark Buehrle (12-10, 3.80) at 4:07 p.m. Pacific time.
*Thursday: Right-hander Chris Young (12-8, 3.33 prior to Saturday’s game against Houston) vs. Toronto right-hander Marcus Stroman (10-6, 3.80) at 1:07 p.m. Pacific time.
Robinson Cano reached 900 career RBIs with a single Friday in the Mariners’ seven-run fourth inning. That ranks 26th among active players…The Mariners entered Saturday with 45 road victories with six road games remaining. The 45 road victories match the second-highest total in club history. The 1997 and 2002 clubs also won 45. The 2001 club set the record with 59.
The Mariners’ new two-year deal with Bakersfield of the Hi-A California League puts the organization’s affiliate roster in place through 2016.
The eight affiliates: Triple-A Tacoma, Double-A Jackson, Hi-A Bakersfield, Lo-A Clinton, Short-A Everett, Rookie Peoria and academy teams in the Dominican and Venezuelan summer leaguers.
It was one year ago Sunday — Sept. 21, 2013 — that Raul Ibanez hit the 300th homer of his career with a one-out blast in the ninth inning of a 6-5 loss to the Angels in Anaheim.
It was Ibanez’s 29th and final homer of the season, which enabled him to tie Ted Williams for the most homers in a season by a player who was age 40 or older.
Williams was 40 when he hit 29 in 1960.
Ibanez, 42, is currently playing with Kansas City and is up to 305 homers in his 19-year career. He got 156 of those homers in his 11 years with the Mariners.
The Mariners and Astros conclude their three-game series at 11:10 a.m. Pacific time Sunday at Minute Maid Park.
Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (14-8 with a 3.42 ERA) will oppose Houston right-hander Collin McHugh (10-9, 2.66). Root Sports will televise the game.
The Mariners then head to Toronto to conclude their road schedule with four games against the Blue Jays before returning home to conclude the season next weekend with three games against the Los Angeles Angels.