Ackley working in spring for fast start in April

Outfielder will get extra at-bats in Cactus League action, hoping to get into groove

Ackley working in spring for fast start in April

PEORIA, Ariz. -- After slow starts the past two seasons by Dustin Ackley, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon plans to give the left fielder extra at-bats this spring with the hope he can hit the ground running when the season opens in April.

And while many veterans like to pace themselves early and gradually build for the long haul, the 27-year-old Ackley says he's fine with whatever work comes his way as he prepares for his fifth season in the Majors.

"I think that's good," Ackley said. "The more at-bats you get, the better your timing gets and the more comfortable you feel. I think everybody wants to get at-bats and get ready. As excited as everybody is here, we all want to get going and prepared for the season. If we can get the ball rolling good, that will be great."

Ackley feels the biggest key for him will be keeping the same approach and confidence he had at the plate in the second half when he batted .274 with 10 home runs and 38 RBIs in the final 69 games of the season. That after hitting .214 with four homers and 27 RBIs in his first 74 games.

The 2009 first-round Draft choice actually started out last season well. He hit .382 in Cactus League play and led the Mariners with seven doubles and 16 RBIs in 68 at-bats, second-most on the club. And he was hitting .293 after 16 regular-season games before struggling through a tough stretch that dropped that average to .214 by the end of June.

But just as in 2013, Ackley came on strong after the All-Star break and he's adamant about finding that comfort level earlier.

"I just need to stay consistent and don't start pressing if I don't get a hit for a couple games or don't do this or that," he said. "It's not being result-oriented and just going out there and playing and trusting in my swing and my mental standpoint. If I do that, I'll be fine."

McClendon plans to split time between Ackley and Rickie Weeks in left field during the regular season if things go as planned. But Ackley could have a say in how that playing time is divided, depending on how he produces. And he'll have plenty of chances to show where he's at this spring as McClendon said he'll stay in games longer than most players to get into an early rhythm.

"There's nothing like confidence," McClendon said. "He got some positive results [in the second half]. He was feeling good about what he was doing and he kind of fell into that groove a little bit. I just want to force feed him a little and hopefully find that groove a little quicker."

Ackley's spring has been interesting already as his wife, Justine, gave birth six weeks prematurely to their first child while they were driving across the country from Michigan to Arizona. Parson Ackley has spent his initial days in a hospital in Oklahoma City, but Ackley said he's expects his wife and son to join him in Arizona on Wednesday.

And while he's a new dad, he's now an old hand at left field following his first full season in the outfield. Ackley said that will be a factor in his comfort level as well.

"I definitely know my place now," said the former second baseman. "When you know your role and how to prepare, that's a huge key. Not only to help you physically, but from a mental standpoint just knowing what's going on. Now I'm familiar with [outfield coach Andy Van Slyke] after what was my first spring with him and pretty much my first year of playing in the outfield. I feel like my arm is in a different spot this spring, with a full year of outfield throwing and lengthening my arm out and all that. I think all that is going to play a huge factor for me."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.