SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners notebook: New helmet a factor in Nori Aoki’s turnaround

Aug 18, 2016, 6:49 PM | Updated: 7:38 pm

ANAHEIM – Add Nori Aoki’s name to the list of successful Mariners Triple-A tuneups.

Since his return from Tacoma, Aoki has hit .319 (23 for 72) with an on-base percentage of .355 while walking twice and striking out two times. While he has not been in the lineup for the majority of games against left-handed starters, he has gone 4 for 11 against lefties since his return. Aoki made a number of adjustments at the plate while in Tacoma, all aimed at improving his timing.

“That was the biggest thing, the most significant thing,” he said Thursday afternoon. “I was late so many times so I tried to start my movement earlier than before and just be ready to to hit early.”

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While for most veterans it is a matter of getting back to what they were – or what they were when they were successful – Aoki said he doesn’t like to limit himself like that.

“I wanted to try new things but in my whole career I have gone through bad streaks and I have fixed them so it is has just been a repetition of that, but this time it just took a little longer,” he said.

Better timing is not the only thing Aoki has brought back from Tacoma. He also brought his batting helmet. Aoki has been going double flaps since his return, something you rarely see in the big leagues. The reason why might surprise you.

“When I was in Triple-A having both of my ears closed kind of helped me focus more,” he said. “It’s different even between having one closed and both of them closed. It makes it easier to concentrate.

“So even little things like that, I have been trying new things like that. But at this point maybe I am thinking of making it my trademark signature look.”

On a more serious note, while it may have taken longer for Aoki to bounce back from struggles this year, his bounce-back could not have come at a better time.

“This is the most important time of the season. We are in the hunt for the playoffs and even the championship,” he said. “I definitely feel that we can win it all as long as everyone is going toward the same goal of winning every day and coming together. I just want to be able to contribute to that.”

Notes

• The Mariners could be short in the pen tonight as Tom Wilhelmsen and Edwin Diaz are most likely not available.

• James Paxton threw a bullpen Thursday afternoon and all went well. The swelling in his elbow and forearm are gone and the next step for him is to pitch a short rehab start with Tacoma on Saturday.

• Manager Scott Servais said the reports on Steve Cishek’s second rehab outing with Single-A Everett were good. While he gave up two runs on two hits, Servais said that wasn’t a concern as he was working on his fastball and not throwing much of anything else.

• If the current players need a Griffey weekend tuneup, they will get it Tuesday. The game against the Yankees will be shown nationally on ESPN and Junior will join the broadcast crew as a guest analyst.

• The sale of the Mariners to a group of minority owners led by John Stanton was approved, as expected, by Major League Baseball owners at the owners meetings in Houston on Thursday. The official transfer could be completed as early as Friday.

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