Along with Ichiro, Seattle second baseman Dustin Ackley starred in the first game that counts in 2012. Ackley ripped a fourth-inning solo homer off Brandon McCarthy and lined a go-ahead single off Andrew Carignan in the 11th as the Mariners topped the A's 3-1 at the Tokyo Dome.
That both hits from Ackley came on pitches high in the zone -- the go-ahead single was nearly at eye level -- shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Ackley performed well overall as a rookie, batting .273/.348/.417 with a 117 OPS+, but he was especially deadly against high stuff. Look at his in-play slugging percentage by pitch location in 2011:
The number two pick in the '09 drafted slugged .547 on pitches thrown up in the zone, 161 points above the MLB average last season. That high-pitch slugging placed him in the top 15 among all hitters:
Highest slugging percentage on high pitches, 2011
|J. J. Hardy||.580|
An Ichiro rebound is important for Seattle, but continued growth from Ackley (projected for a .261/.348/.410 line by ZiPS) and offseason pickup Jesus Montero (.257/.322/.438) will determine whether the M's finish last in runs scored in the AL for the fourth straight year in 2012. So far, so good for Ackley.