Dustin Ackley’s reunion with the Mariners has ended before the 2019 season. The Mariners’ former first-round pick of the 2009 draft — No. 2 overall — was given a chance to come back to the organization that drafted him in hopes of getting a chance to compete for a spot on the big league roster and perhaps a job with Class AAA Tacoma.
But on Tuesday, the Mariners announced they had released Ackley, who came to camp as a nonroster invite on minor league contract.
Ackley appeared in 11 games, going 3 for 12 — all singles. He is now a free agent, but given his lack of production over the past few seasons, his playing future is in doubt.
The Mariners also reassigned outfielder Tito Polo and infielders Tim Lopes and Orlando Calixte to minor league camp. All three players are expected to play for Class AAA Tacoma this season.
A rare rainout
While most teams in the Arizona valley didn’t mind a rain day to give their players some extra rest, it was an issue for the Mariners as they try to get their pitchers work in a truncated Cactus League schedule and a departure for Japan on Thursday.
Seattle had its game with the White Sox canceled due to the rain. Lefty Yusei Kikuchi was scheduled to start the game. The rainout follows a drizzly Monday night game where the Mariners scratched Wade LeBlanc. Both pitchers need to get their work in, and it will happen on what figures to be a busy Wednesday.
“We will play an intrasquad game [Wednesday] at 1 o’clock,” manager Scott Servais said in his morning media session with reporters. “Yusei Kikuchi and Wade will pitch with some relievers in that game. So almost an 8-9 inning game. We’ll play at 1 and then we’ll also play the game tomorrow night at 6:40. It’s not ideal, but we’ll adjust.”
Marco Gonzales is scheduled to start Wednesday night vs. the Giants at Peoria Stadium.
The Mariners have three relievers — all expected to contribute this season — dealing with some level of injury issues. But the news surrounding all three seems to be positive.
Right-hander Gerson Bautista, who was forced out of the game on Sunday in Tempe due to discomfort in his pectoral muscle, had a MRI on Monday.
“Bautista has a Grade 1 strain in his pec,” Servais said. “So he’s going to be down for a little while. How long, I don’t know. Grade 1 is the least severe so hopefully we can get him back as soon as possible. But he needs to rest that. He feels fine, but the pictures and MRIs there’s a little strain in there.”
Bautista was scratched from the travel roster for Japan and could be placed on the injured list next week.
Projected closer Hunter Strickland, who had been sidelined with lower back stiffness, should make the trip to Japan. He threw a flat ground session on Monday and pitched off the mound on Tuesday morning.
“He threw a really good bullpen today,” Servais said. “Looked good, free and easy. He might get back tomorrow and maybe just pitch in the intrasquad game where we can control the pitches. But he looked really good today.”
If Strickland pitches in the intrasquad game and has not issues, he’ll go with the team to Japan.
“I think we’d be good to go there,” Servais said. “We’ll get him an inning in Tokyo in an exhibition game there as well.”
Veteran right-hander Anthony Swarzak also threw a bullpen on Tuesday morning as part of his recovery from shoulder discomfort.
“That’s a big step,” Servais said. “Swarzak really threw the ball well today, too. Both those guys had no hesitation. They were letting it go, working in all their pitches. We need (Swarzak). We need both those guys to be healthy.”
Swarzak will remain in Arizona and continue his throwing progression which includes live batting practice and pitching in minor league games.
Smith stays in Arizona
Outfielder Mallex Smith won’t accompany the team to Japan and will remain in Arizona to continue to his recovery from an offseason elbow strain.
“It’s too important to get him progressing along in some kind of spring training for him,” Servais said.
Smith has begun taking regular batting practice while building up arm strength.
“He’s feeling much better,” Servais said. “He’ll continue to stretch out the arm, but he feels really good swinging the bat in BP, no restrictions there at all. He’s getting a lot of work in so he should be ready to get in some games here shortly down here.”
Former UW standout Braden Bishop is expected to make the trip in Smith’s place and be placed on the active roster.
The bigger question is whether Smith will be ready when the Mariners open at home against the Red Sox on March 28 and get into the full regular season.
“A chance, maybe? I’d have to look at how the roster would shake out as well,” Servais said. “It’s a lot of we’re on, then we’re off, how those DL days go. I don’t know how it’s all played out. I haven’t talked to the front office guys on that yet.”