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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

May 24, 2011 at 12:24 PM

(Almost) live from Tacoma, catching up with Dustin Ackley and Daren Brown (plus minor-league report)

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(Dustin Ackley turns a double play in a Tacoma game from last August. His time with the Rainiers is likely winding down. Seattle Times staff photo by Jim Bates).

Here is today’s Mariner minor-league report.

Today, I can provide my own minor-league report, of sorts, because I drove down to Tacoma yesterday to take in the Rainiers’ game with the Nashville Sounds. The Sounds feature a couple of ex-Mariners — reliever Sean Green, and outfielder Jeremy Reed (who hit eighth in the order and went 0-for-3 to drop his average to .200 in 28 games. It’s amazing to think Reed was the Mariners’ Opening Day center fielder in 2005 and seemed to have a promising future. Now, at age 29, he’s struggling to keep his career alive).

But Reed is the Brewers’ problem. I was interested in seeing the Rainiers, and I was rewarded with some nice moments in their 5-3 victory:

Mike Carp hit a screaming line drive over the right-field wall for his 11th homer leading off the sixth. I was told by Cheney Stadium veterans (like Ryan Divish of the TNT, and P.R. man Ben Spradling) that Carp’s ball would not have made it over the wall last year, when the fences were much higher. But as part of the reconstruction, the fences are now lower; broadcaster Mike Curto is keeping track and reports that Carp’s homer was the 22nd this year that wouldn’t have been out in previous years — 11 by the Rainiers, 11 by the opponents.

Alex Liddi knocked his ninth homer, a towering bomb to left that would have cleared the Great Wall of China. And the increasingly intriguing Johan Limonta his his second homer; Limonta’s 1-for-4 night lowered his average to .358.

–To my great enjoyment, I got to see the immense DH Luis Jimenez, recently up from Double-A Jackson. He’s listed at 6-3, 275 pounds, but most observers agree that the 275 number is lowballing it. Probably closer to 300. But sure enough, he stole second base after drawing a walk in the second inning, and was actually moving pretty well. BTW, that explains the odd seismographic readings in the Tacoma area at about 7:45 p.m.

Matt Tuiasosopo, who is having a rough time at the plate, did manage an RBI double to right in the second, driving in his 26th run. But Tui is hitting just .217, which doesn’t bode well.

Dustin Ackley had a pretty quiet evening, both on offense and defense. He hit the ball well a couple of times for outs, and then lined a single off the second baseman’s glove in his final at-bat for a 1-for-4 night. I should have gone back for the day game today — through four innings, Ackley already has a double and triple in three at-bats to raise his average to .270.

I had a chance to talk to Ackley before the game. Some of it I’m saving for a story that will run Friday, but I did ask him if he was getting antsy about moving up to the majors.

“Oh, no, not at all,” he repled. “I’m down here, I’m going to try to just keep improving. Whenever that time comes, I’m going to be ready. Whether that’s a week, a month, a couple of months, the end of the year, next year, whenever that is, I’m going to be ready.”

That’s pretty much verbatim what he said when I talked to him right before Opening Day, and seems to be his stock answer, which is fine. But he did acknowledge that he’s picked up on some of the recent speculation that a promotion is imminent.

“Oh, yeah. Once you hear things, it’s in your mind. But I can’t think about being up there when I’m down here. I have to continue to try to improve every day, work things out swinging, and double plays, and baserunning, and hopefully continue that.”

Ackley’s defense is the biggest issue for the Mariners, beyond the arbitration implications, in determining when to call him up. Keep in mind that he is in just his second season playing second base.

“I still have a lot to improve,” he said. “But compared to last year, I feel a lot more comfortable. I think that’s the biggest thing for me, just the comfort level. Being out there comfortable in any situation. As far as everything else goes, I feel like I’m a lot better than I was last year at this time.”

Tacoma manager Daren Brown agrees. Here was his assessment of Ackley:

“Obviously, he’s swung the bat real well for us in the last couple, three weeks. I know most people want to ask about his defense. I still say there’s things that come up in game situations that he needs to go through. He’s going through them. He’s been solid for us defensively. He’s turned the double play well.

“Still, he’s what, a year and a month playing the position. He works at it. He’s improving. As long as he’s here, that’s what we’ll continue to do. He’s got things to work on every day. All our guys do. But he’s willing to work. I think that’s what given him an opportunity to play there. He’s showed us he’s willing to work, he’s willing to get after it and do the things he need to do. He’s come a long ways in the last year.”

Brown is watching closely to make sure Ackley doesn’t press as the talk about his impending callup to the Mariners increases.

“We’ve had a couple of talks about that,” Brown said. “Obviously, it started in spring training. We get here and he gets off to a slow start. He gets hot, and it starts again. He’s still a kid that hasn’t played a full year at this level. He just needs to take care of what’s going on here. He knows that. This is what he can control. He can control what’s going on in Tacoma, where he’s at each day. I think he’s a pretty level-headed guy. I think he handles it pretty well.”

Brown is very pleased with Ackley’s offensive development. He headed into today’s game with 33 walks for a .373 on-base percentage to go with seven homers and 23 RBIs. He’s hitting over .380 for the past two-weeks-plus.

“I think more than anything, what stands out offensively is he’s a very disciplined hitter for his age,” Brown said. “He doesn’t swing at bad pitches. He understands the strike zone, and he understands when he gets a pitch he can handle, he doesn’t miss it a whole lot. That’s going to give him a chance to hit.”

And it won’t be too much longer before he gets a chance to hit at the major-league level.

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