Manager Lloyd McClendon simply can’t keep running Ackley out there, not on a team as offensively challenged as the Mariners. Not when Ackley is hitting a mind-boggling .043 with runners in scoring position, and .103 with runners on base.
That the curtain is closing on the Dustin Ackley era in Seattle, such as it was, seems inevitable.
He now induces that level of visceral scorn reserved only for the most desperately struggling Mariners. Not quite Chone Figgins territory, but descending quickly.
What is more difficult to fathom is how it got to this point, where every time Lloyd McClendon writes Ackley’s name in the lineup, it seems to be either a reprieve, or a last rite.
Ackley arrived with so much promise as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft, a worthy consolation prize once the Mariners fell out of the opportunity to draft Stephen Strasburg. I remember talking to North Carolina coach Mike Fox and others right after the draft, and hearing Ackley’s sweet left-handed swing compared with the likes of George Brett and Wade Boggs. No one doubted he was going to be an impact player.
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I remember the excited anticipation when Ackley was called up in June 2011 — too soon, of course, but no one wanted to think that at the time. I vividly recall the Sunday game, his third in the majors, when a sold-out crowd at Safeco went bonkers as Ackley drilled a seventh-inning triple off lefty Cole Hamels (who was 9-2 at the time) and scored a key insurance run in a 2-0 victory.
He looked great that half-season, poised for the stardom that seemed preordained. The very peak of Ackley’s Mariners’ career might well have been opening day of 2012, when he homered against the A’s in Japan (though few in Seattle stayed up to watch the game in the wee hours of the morning).
At that precise moment, everything seemed possible for Ackley — All-Star games, batting titles, a long and prosperous career. But it quickly fell apart in 2012, leading to a troubling season in which Ackley hit .226 and seemed powerless to stem the tide.
Maybe it was just growing pains, right? But Ackley showed up the following spring with an awkward-looking new batting stance, and the same old inconsistency. In fact, other than occasional spurts of prowess that merely accentuate what could have been, Ackley has been mired in a slump that now extends into its fourth season. Long enough, in fact, to be deemed not a slump at all, but rather the essence of Ackley. At some point, you are what your stats say you are.
It’s a shame, because Ackley warrants more than his share of empathy. For one thing, the Mariners haven’t done him any favors along the way, first by hurrying him to the majors, then by switching his position for a second time, and moving him all around the batting order.
Ackley, in turn, has grappled with confidence, by his own admission.
It can’t be easy to be a prodigy all your life, and then suddenly be in the midst of a constant struggle. I talked to him at length in the spring of 2014 about how beneficial he had found a book called, “The Mental Side of Baseball,” by Harvey Dorfman, in honing his mental approach.
But that doesn’t seem to have taken, either. Ackley is mired in another whopper of a slump, one that has made him a lightning rod of fan restlessness over the Mariners’ lackluster start.
Since homering three times in Seattle’s first seven games, Ackley is batting .154 with just three extra-base-hits, all doubles. He’s driven in a mere four runs over those 83 plate appearances, unacceptable for a corner outfielder (now dabbling in center while Austin Jackson is out).
McClendon simply can’t keep running Ackley out there, not on a team as offensively challenged as the Mariners. Not when Ackley is hitting a mind-boggling .043 (1 for 23) with runners in scoring position, and .103 (4 for 39) with runners on base.
The original plan was to platoon Ackley because of his success hitting right-handed pitchers. But Ackley is batting just .189 against righties, so there’s no reason not to give Justin Ruggiano or Brad Miller or Rickie Weeks or someone else — Stefen Romero? A player to be acquired? — an extended shot in Ackley’s outfield spot. Particularly with Jackson due back soon.
When he was hired before the 2009 season, general manager Jack Zduriencik was ruthless in dumping high-profile mistakes (or perceived mistakes) from the previous regime.
Shortly after his arrival, Zduriencik traded Bill Bavasi first-round choices Jeff Clement, Brandon Morrow, Phillippe Aumont and Josh Fields.
When it’s your own guy, however, there’s much more of an emotional investment. It’s not easy to concede that the No. 2 pick (in a draft that also produced Mike Trout) is a bust. Particularly one in whom the Mariners have invested so much time, energy — and money (a reported $6 million signing bonus).
Mind you, I’m not ruling out the possibility that Ackley can still blossom into a productive player. Baseball’s funny that way. But it might take being removed from the direct pressure of having to live up to being the No. 2 pick. In a Mariners season that needs a jump-start soon, they can’t keep waiting for Ackley to break out.
For Ackley’s own good, and the Mariners’, it sure looks like a change of scenery would be beneficial.