PEORIA, Ariz. — The spring push accelerates Wednesday for the Mariners when they open their Cactus League schedule against complex co-tenant San Diego at Peoria Stadium.
That goes double for left fielder Dustin Ackley.
Manager Lloyd McClendon is promising heavy duty for Ackley in an effort to wean him away from his dreadful starts over the last two seasons.
“When he’s in there,” McClendon vowed, “he’ll play. I think that’s the way to do it. When he plays, he's going to play. Just give him as many at-bats as we possibly can.”
In short, don’t be surprised if Ackley leads the Cactus League in at-bats.
“I don’t have a problem with that,” he said. “Everybody here wants at-bats. That’s what everybody here is trying to do in order to prepare for the season. The best way to do that is to get at-bats.”
Ackley needs a good spring, too, to hold onto playing time after the Mariners made a series of off-season acquisitions — most notably, the Feb. 13 signing of free-agent Rickie Weeks, who is spending a lot of time in left.
“It’s just one of those things,” Ackley said. “I’m going to keep doing the things I would have done regardless of if he was here or wasn’t here. I’m going to go out there and work hard.”
The early projection is Ackley and Weeks will platoon in left field, but either one could work their way into more-regular duty — or less-regular duty — depending on performance.
The Mariners can shift either Seth Smith or Justin Ruggiano to left if needs arise, although those two are projected to share time as a left/right platoon in right field.
“We do have a lot of flexibility,” McClendon said. “It’s nice to have choices, and those choices include veteran guys who have nice track records. That’s important.”
So Ackley, at 27, finds himself at something of a career crossroads after three-plus seasons. He batted .245, with a .293 on-base percentage, a year ago with 14 homers and 65 RBIs in 143 games.
The Mariners want more from a player they selected in 2009 with the second overall pick in the draft.
“He should be at a point in his career where his confidence level should be steady,” McClendon said. “You know you’re a major-league player. You know you’re going to stick, and you know you’re going to get your playing time.
“So put your work in and get ready. That’s where we’re trying to get him now.”
Ackley admits he often permitted the game’s grind to affect him in the past — he’d obsess over even routine struggles and disappointments to point where they would snowball in to bigger problems.
He also believes he became better at limiting that tendency last season over the closing few months.
“I think if I play the way I’m capable of playing,” Ackley said, “everything is going to fall into place and things are going to happen that I want to happen. Pretty much, it’s all in my court.
“I’ve just got to go out there and perform. That’s pretty much the same for everybody. That’s what Mac said in the meetings — this is a performance-based thing. If you help the team win, you’re going to be playing.”
That begins with avoiding another slow start.
Ackley was batting just .214 a year ago through June before rallying to a .274/.313/.463 slash over his final 69 games.
It was much the same a year earlier when his average stood at .213 as late as Aug. 5. Thereafter, he posted a .321/.399/.471.
Ackley often battled a sore left ankle and foot in the past. The problem stems from long-troublesome bone spurs, but off-season examinations revealed no need for surgery.
“The wheel is good,” he insisted. “It is what it is. It’s one of those things where it’s probably not going to feel great every single day. But as long as I’m able to get out there and play every day, I’m good with it.”
It’s already been a busy spring for Ackley, whose wife, Justine, gave birth to the couple’s first child midway through their annual drive from Michigan to Peoria.
Parson Bennett Ackley arrived nearly six weeks ahead of schedule at an Oklahoma City hospital. While healthy, he initially required time in an incubator and on a respirator.
“He came on the 19th (of February),” Ackley said, “and the due date was originally March 30. He was pretty premature, but he weighed 5 pounds and 12 ounces. So he was far along for a baby that early. That helped.”
When Parson’s condition stabilized, Ackley continued to spring training — and began waiting for wife and child to be cleared to join him. That could be any day now.
“They originally said two or three weeks,” Ackley said. “He might be ready to leave even before two weeks.”
Once the family reunites, Ackley can reinforce his focus on displaying his second-half form throughout the entire season.
“I think it’s just a matter of keeping the same confidence level, keep doing the same things I was doing at the end of last year,” he said. “Other than the foot thing I had going on, I felt great.
“Everything was going good swing-wise and mentality-wise. I think if I just stay with that, and get a lot of at-bats this spring, it’s going to go exactly like I want it to.”