Mariners want Norichika Aoki to hit lefties more in minors before he returns to Seattle
Norichika Aoki has been hitting leadoff recently, but not for the team the Mariners had intended when they signed him as a free agent in the offseason.
The veteran outfielder has been with Triple-A Tacoma since late June, a result of both poor performance – especially against left-handed pitching – and circumstance, as Seattle needed to add an extra relief pitcher for a spell and Aoki was the only expendable position player with a minor-league option left. Interestingly enough, though, the Mariners didn’t bring Aoki back up when they went back to a normal four-player bench, instead opting to promote Daniel Robertson.
So, what is the status with the 34-year-old Japanese export?
“Eventually we’ll see Nori back here,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto told “Danny, Dave and Moore” on Thursday. “We told him, ‘It could be 10 days, it could be a little longer than that.’ What we’d like to see him do is go down to Triple-A, get back to doing the things that he had always done well. Controlling the strike zone, getting on base, putting the ball in play and letting his legs work for him, and he’s doing those things.”
Aoki has a .298 batting average in 12 games with the Rainiers, including .278 in 18 at-bats against lefties. That’s a significant jump from the .177 clip he has vs. southpaws in MLB play this year, but still well off of the .345 average he managed against LHPs in the three years prior combined.
Dipoto said the M’s want to see a little more proof Aoki’s closer to his old self before he returns to Seattle.
“He’s back to putting the ball in play, making contact and doing Nori Aoki-type things. We’d like to give him the challenge of seeing him against a couple more left-handers down there and he understands that, so there’s no specific timetable for his return, but I would say we would see him here in all likelihood sooner than later.”
As for how Aoki is dealing with his first extended foray in the minor leagues, Dipoto is impressed with his attitude.
“To his credit, Nori has been as professional through this as any player I could have ever imagined,” he said. “A superstar in Japan, very strong and solid, consistent track record in the four years prior to coming to the Mariners in the big leagues. And when we told him this is what we were going to do, he nodded his head, he accepted it and he’s gone down and done his thing.”
You can listen to the entire Dipoto interview at this link.