SEATTLE -- Brendan Ryan feels like he's in debt. He owes Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, manager Eric Wedge and his teammates. Ryan also views the final two months of the season as a tryout -- an extended job application of sorts.
Ryan's paltry .206 batting average has only just recently crept above the Mendoza line, dipping as low as .156 on June 15. Yet Wedge keeps inserting the shortstop into the lineup, partly because he doesn't have a plethora of options, partly because Ryan is statistically the top defender at his position in the league and partly because he believed he would snap out of the funk.
"I wanted to make our coaching staff look good, I want to help our team, I want to be a good starting shortstop in the Major Leagues," Ryan said. "Them sticking with me, that's a vote of confidence on our staff. I think they know what I can do, and I thought I could do a whole lot better than last year. I don't want to make Wedgie look back for having to pencil me in every night, regardless of the defense."
Ryan acknowledges his numbers will never reach respectable heights this year -- there's just not enough games left -- but it's undeniable that progress has been made. Since June 15, Ryan is hitting .281 (32-for-114) and he's making better contact. For a player who hit a career-high .292 with the Cardinals in 2009 and felt like he was hitting well before an injury forced him onto the disabled list last August, that's a step in the right direction.
Part of the problem of the prolonged slump, in Ryan's opinion, was he was simply trying too hard.
"For me, from my experience, just pressing a little bit, knowing the position you're in [as a] professional, as far as contract, all that, any of that stuff," Ryan said. "You want to do that much better, and now you're trying to create good things, instead of letting good things happen. Just being prepared and let it, like I said, happen.
"I definitely pressed and I was trying too hard -- trying way too hard. I didn't relax, and I think I've just been able to relax a little bit here over this span. Again, that's another thing a lot of good hitters do -- just go up there confident and relaxed and good things tend to happen."
It's something Wedge has discussed with Ryan, who is very much an energetic and emotional person, let alone player. Harnessing that emotion has been key to success at the plate.
"He just has to understand and be more even-keeled offensively, like he is defensively," Wedge said. "I think he's handling his failures a little better offensively. He's not critiquing himself quite as much throughout the course of the day offensively. He just has to let it happen instead of trying to force it all the time. He just really tries to force it too much offensively, so I think he's letting go a little more and that's helping him."
Now that Ryan has things under control at the plate -- or at least he feels like he's on the way -- he has the rest of the season to complete what he refers to as an "audition." He wants to prove that he's more than a slick-fielding shortstop.
More than ever, though, Ryan just wants to repay Zduriencik. He wants to repay Wedge. He wants to repay his teammates. He just wants to repay his debt
"Mr. Zduriencik traded for me, and last year it was all about making the Mariners look good in that trade," Ryan said. "I wanted to play solid D and handle the bat, and it went all right until I got hurt. I want to be where I'm wanted. That goes for every player. They make me feel at home here and I just want to pay that back. I want to pay that back on the field. That's my motivation."
Josh Liebeskind is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.