MINNEAPOLIS -- While Dustin Ackley's early-season offensive struggle and recent improvement have been well chronicled, less noticed has been the young second baseman's steadily consistent development with the glove.
Ackley, in his first full year in the Majors, has made several outstanding plays in recent days. But he's also been getting progressively better since he moved to second base two years ago and his current Ultimate Zone Rating by FanGraphs is second in the Majors and tops in the American League at his position at 8.9.
Last year, Ackley's UZR was 2.3 for the half season he spent with the Mariners.
"He's played a really good second base for us and now he's even extended beyond that in regard to his range and making the great play or the big play here or there," manager Eric Wedge said. "He's been very, very consistent for us."
Ackley, 24, made an excellent play in Tuesday's 5-2 win over the Twins when he shifted quickly to his left to stab a hard shot by Justin Morneau in the second inning, then spun and got Josh Willingham going to second to help Hisashi Iwakuma stay out of trouble after Iwakuma hit Willingham leading off the inning.
Half of the battle on that play, according to Ackley, was shading Morneau already a step or two to his left, which allowed him to get to that ball in the first place.
"I feel like I'm a lot further along than I was a year ago," he said. "I was more worried then about just catching the ball rather than where it was going. Now I'm starting to figure things out.
"After you see these guys time and again, you start to see what they do and what our pitchers are and what their strengths are. So you know maybe where they're going to hit the ball and you get that extra step before they even make contact. I think that's real important and I'm coming along as far as that goes."
Saunders misses fifth consecutive start
MINNEAPOLIS -- Outfielder Michael Saunders wasn't in the Mariners lineup for a fifth straight game on Wednesday as he continues working through a slight strain in his right groin muscle.
Franklin Gutierrez also was held out Wednesday to ease his legs back into things after coming off the disabled list Monday. Thus manager Eric Wedge had Chone Figgins penciled in as the starting center fielder for the second time in the past five games.
Saunders injured his groin when colliding with right fielder Eric Thames on the final play of Friday's 9-8 loss at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. He worked out with trainer Rick Griffin prior to Wednesday night's game with the Twins, but the club is being cautious.
"The biggest fear, especially in the outfield, you can't really control it, you just have to react," Wedge said. "And with his leg, if he breaks and clips it, he'll be done for the year. And that's the last thing I want to have happen. I want to make sure we have him healthy for the last month."
Wedge said Gutierrez should definitely be back in the lineup on Thursday afternoon's series finale with the Twins, while Saunders "is really close."
Both players were available to pinch-hit on Wednesday if needed.
Zunino among eight tabbed for Fall League squad
MINNEAPOLIS -- Catcher Mike Zunino, the Mariners top pick and No. 3 overall selection in June's First-Year Player Draft, tops a list of eight Seattle Minor Leaguers who were named to the Peoria Javelinas team on Wednesday as Arizona Fall League rosters were announced.
Infielders Nick Franklin, Vinnie Catricala and Stefen Romero, right-handed pitchers Carson Smith and Logan Bawcom and left-handers James Paxton and Bobby LaFromboise were also named to the squad, which will play from Oct. 9 through Nov. 15 in the Phoenix area.
Zunino, one of the nation's premier college players at Florida, has hit .350 with three home runs and five RBIs in his first 11 games for Double-A Jackson after being promoted from Class-A Everett this month.
Franklin, a first-round Draft pick in 2009, played in the AFL last fall as well and was named the MVP of the AFL's Rising Stars Game. He has split this season between Jackson (.322 in 57 games) and Triple-A Tacoma (.241 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games).
Paxton, a fourth-round selection in 2010, has gone 8-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 20 starts for Double-A Jackson this season.
Catricala is hitting .227 for Tacoma and Romero is batting .330 for Jackson after hitting .357 in Class-A High Desert.
Bawcom was acquired in the Brandon League trade with the Dodgers and is 5-3 with a 2.47 ERA and 18 saves in Double-A ball this season, including 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA and five saves for Jackson.
LaFromboise is 5-2 with a 1.46 ERA in 25 relief outings for Tacoma after being promoted midseason from Jackson, where he went 1-0 with a 1.01 ERA in 20 appearances. Smith is 5-1 with a 3.02 ERA and 15 saves for High Desert.
Manager Eric Wedge is a big believer in the value of players competing in Fall or Winter ball when it makes sense.
"It is important," he said. "We've got the instructional league starting up here pretty soon, then the Fall League and then a co-op league. So there's an opportunity for a lot of guys to play a little longer. Every situation is different to a man, but it's another start-over for them and they're playing against good competition. It's a very positive thing."
• First baseman Mike Carp played his second rehab game for Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday at Las Vegas and went 1-for-3. He's hit .250 (2-for-8) at designated hitter while working his way back from a strained groin muscle.
• Kyle Seager's two RBIs on Tuesday moved him into first in the Majors in road RBIs with 53, ahead of Josh Hamilton (51), Mark Teixeira (51), Miguel Cabrera (51) and Buster Posey (50).
• When Trayvon Robinson stole two bases on Tuesday, it ran the Mariners string of successful steals to 10 straight. Seattle is tied for third in the Majors with their 83.3 percent stolen-base percentage in the second half, going 30-for-36. The Phillies lead at 84.6 percent.