Tacoma Rainiers

Now armed with big-league experience, McKay working on his craft with the Rainiers

Since his five-game stint up the road in Seattle, reliever David McKay has become a bright spot in an otherwise tough June for Tacoma.

In seven appearances following being optioned on May 31, the Mariners’ No. 23 prospect has allowed just one run in 12 innings — lowering his ERA to from 5.91 to 4.05 — with 20 strikeouts.

“There’s just more consistency,” pitching coach Lance Painter said before Monday night’s Rainiers game at Cheney Stadium. “He’s been one that’s been struggling feeling comfortable on the mound a lot during the year, and we have to kind of keep the maintenance going with him.”

McKay, in his first full season in Triple-A, appeared in just 14 games before getting his first big-league call-up. He pitched five innings in five outings for the Mariners, not allowing a run until the last.

Now back with big-league experience, his focus is on staying settled down on the mound.

“I think just having some success at the highest level, coming back down, these are still really good hitters, all of these guys here… and I’m just trusting myself,” McKay said. “I have the ability to do it, and just trying not to over-think anything and keep it simple and attack the guys. Hopefully I’ll have some good results.”

Sunday afternoon, McKay entered the game in the eighth inning, down by a run, against an El Paso lineup that had already hit five home runs off of Tacoma relievers in four games. He struck out four, allowing just two baserunners.

“There’s an aggressiveness to him, and he had some of those games before he went up, but since he’s been back he’s been a lot more consistent doing it,” Painter said. “There’s intent, there’s a purpose behind each pitch now.”

Ichiro in town

Sitting in the home dugout during batting practice before Monday night’s game, the focus moved from the hitters to the man behind the pitching screen.

“That kid right there hitting against him, that’s probably something that he’s going to be able to tell everyone for his life,” Painter said, pointing to the hitting shell. “‘I got to hit against Ichiro in BP.’”

Ichiro made his third appearance in Tacoma of the year since moving to an instructor’s role in the Mariners organization. He warmed up and stretched with the team, and spent batting practice — when he wasn’t throwing — talking with both Tacoma and El Paso players alike.

“It’s the best; he’s the best,” Rainiers infielder Tim Lopes said. “He’s a really easy guy to talk to, very knowledgeable, very approachable, and just a guy I’ve looked up to and watched for years. He’s the man, he’s everything you see.”