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Time to push the panic button with Dustin Ackley?


By Brady Henderson

Let’s start with the obligatory mention that it’s early. The Mariners’ 2013 is seven games old, which usually isn’t enough of a sample size from which to draw meaningful conclusions about an individual player’s performance.

Those who aren’t concerned about Dustin Ackley’s slow start would cite that line of thinking. The Mariners second baseman is 2-for-23 through seven games, with one of his two base hits coming in Monday night’s home opener.

M’s second baseman Dustin Ackley is 2-for-23 through seven games. (AP)

Those with their finger hovering nervously over the panic button would note that while it’s early, Ackley is coming off a season in which he hit just .226. And while we could delay judgment on the early struggles of a player who’s coming off a strong or even decent season, Ackley doesn’t have that equity.

Count former “Brock and Salk” co-host Mike Salk among those in the latter camp.

“I think he needs to be in the minor leagues,” Salk told Brock and Damon Huard on Tuesday. “I think he needs to figure out what his swing looks like, how to hit pitching again, gain that confidence that he has severely, severely lost in the last couple of years, and get back to the player that he was drafted as, the No. 2 player in the draft.”

Salk felt last season that a trip to Tacoma would benefit Ackley, whose second major-league season was a struggle. Perhaps most alarming was the strikeouts. He whiffed 124 times in 2012, which is high total for a contact hitter who rarely struck out in college and in the minors.

Ackley, 25, had offseason surgery to clean up bone spurs in his left ankle — an injury that, to his credit, he never blamed for his hitting woes. He also made adjustments to his swing, the most noticeable difference being a more open stance.

A year earlier, an offseason swing overhaul might have saved Michael Saunders’ career. That was a last resort of sorts for Saunders, and it worked. But in Ackley’s case, Salk saw it as a troubling sign.

“This kid who hit at every single level until he got to the major leagues all of the sudden had a completely different approach and he just didn’t look like himself,” he said. “So I would be very concerned about Dustin Ackley.”

Now, for some good news: For as poor a start as Ackley is off to, he’s only struck out three times. He’s also hit some balls hard, only to have them result in outs. And we don’t have to look far for a reminder that a slow start to a season — or even a career — can be overcome.

“When you see Michael Saunders hitting in the high .280s, stealing bases, hitting for power — doubles power — playing defense, everything that he can bring to the table, and think about how long it took him to get there,” Salk said, “that has to leave you with at least some level of hope to remember sometimes these kids take until they’re 26 or 27 before they really get it.”