ST. PETERSBURG -- The big infield shift normally is reserved for big-hitting pull hitters in baseball, guys like David Ortiz and Ryan Howard.
But Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon is a proponent of moving his defenders to one side of the infield in various situations, so Mariners hitters Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak all looked out at times this week to see three infielders on the right side and the third baseman lined up at shortstop.
"That is the first time," Seager said. "It's something I haven't really seen too much before. I've seen it with other guys, obviously, but not with me."
Part of Maddon's approach is to make hitters try to do something different than normal and get away from their strengths.
"I think if you think about the shift, it will get in your head a little bit," Seager said. "You just kind of have your same approach. If you hit it hard and do what you want to do, you'll be successful."
Saunders has seen the strategy before and said he was more ready for it this time.
"I was really surprised 2-3 years ago when they did that to me here," Saunders said. "It was the first time I'd ever seen it and, to be honest, it got in my head a little. I knew coming in they'd do the same thing [this season].
"But I just try to stay with my game plan and if I hit the ball hard, there's a good chance it's going to find a hole, even if it is to the right side. I'm just trying to barrel the ball up. They can't play everywhere, despite having three guys over there."
Struggling Ryan gets a rest
ST. PETERSBURG -- Shortstop Brendan Ryan, mired in an 0-for-26 slump that has dropped his season average to .125, wasn't in the lineup on Thursday as the Mariners closed out their four-game series against the Rays.
But manager Eric Wedge says Ryan remains a critical part of the team going forward, thanks to his outstanding defense, and that he just needs to get back to the offensive player the team has seen flashes of since his arrival by trade prior to 2011.
"He's a guy we've got to get going," said Wedge. "He's taken away more runs at shortstop than anybody in the game. That's real. You can't get away from that. With what we saw this spring and at times last year, that's real, too, offensively.
"If you can get a guy who can defend himself at home plate and just be even borderline average, you've got a championship-level shortstop, without a doubt."
Wedge continues to say that Ryan is handling himself well, dealing with his difficult stretch, and that he's looking better in batting practice. But he also said the shortstop is a veteran player who shouldn't have as much trouble carrying that over into games.
"He's not 25, he's 30," said Wedge. "He needs to be doing better than what he's been, offensively."
Munenori Kawasaki started at shortstop on Thursday, but he is also hitting around .200 and isn't known for his bat. Wedge said third baseman Kyle Seager, who played some shortstop at the end of last season, is not an option.
Ackley says things will turn around
ST. PETERSBURG -- Dustin Ackley figures to be a dependable hitter in the Mariners lineup over the long term, but even the steady second baseman has gone through a rough patch during the team's five-game losing streak.
After Thursday's 4-3 loss to the Rays, Ackley is 3-for-25 (.120) over the previous five games, as his season average dropped to .231.
"I felt good up until the last two days," Ackley said. "Up until then, I felt great. I felt I was seeing the ball really well. The last two days, I've kind of felt a little bit off. I feel great in BP, I feel good everywhere else. I think it's a matter of a couple of games I've got in a funk.
"We've faced a couple of tough pitchers. That doesn't make it any easier. I think it's a matter of time before everybody gets back on track."
Ackley hit .273 with a .387 on-base percentage as a rookie last season. His on-base percentage sits at .292 through this season's first month.
It's easy to forget the 2009 first-round Draft pick didn't arrive in the Majors until mid-June last year and is still learning his way.
• Mariners catchers were tied for second in the Majors in home runs going into Thursday's game. Miguel Olivo and Jesus Montero each have three home runs while playing behind the plate. The Orioles have seven home runs from their catchers.
• Ichiro Suzuki, 102nd on MLB's all-time hit list, had one hit on Thursday for a total 2,463. Next on the list is Harry Hooper at 2,466.
• Olivo is now walking without any limp and said his sprained groin muscle is recovering much quicker than he initially expected after getting hurt Monday. He'll be examined by doctors in Seattle on Friday.
• Mike Carp is throwing well from the outfield in pregame drills and will likely get some time in left field this weekend when Seattle faces the Twins at Safeco Field.