BALTIMORE -- An early season hitting slump looks much worse on paper -- or on a stadium big-screen scoreboard -- because your batting average can start with a zero. During most of his first week with the Mariners, right fielder Brad Wilkerson's batting average has been zero-something, but he remains confident that the hits eventually will start coming and his average will climb right along with his confidence. "It's early," Wilkerson said.
It's too early to panic, but the Mariners are off to a slow start, losing four of their first six games, and need the offense to pick up the pace to help offset the loss of closer J.J. Putz. In Wilkerson, a 30-year-old left-handed hitter signed as a free agent on Jan. 31, the Mariners envisioned a veteran hitter with six consecutive multihome run seasons on his Major League resume, including 32 with the Expos in 2004, and 20 in '07 with the Rangers. What they have gotten from him so far this season, through Monday's action, is one hit in 17 at-bats (a .059 average), no home runs and no RBIs. "It's not easy going through something like this and I know I'm going to help this team win a lot of games," Wilkerson said after going 0-for-2 with a walk in Monday's 5-4 loss to the Orioles. "I'll get it done. I'm not getting it done now, but I will get it done." He said he's working too hard on the side to keep making outs, one after the other. "He might be pressing a little bit," said manager John McLaren, of Wilkerson's 1-for-15 start. "It seems like when he gets a good pitch to hit, he's either fouling it off or popping it up. He wants to make an instant impression on the ballclub, and our fans and may be trying too hard." If the amount of time that Wilkerson is spending with hitting coach Jeff Pentland means anything, the hits should start coming any day now. "He wants to get better and we're seeing progress being made," Pentland said. "He has worked hard to make some little changes in his swing, like having a shorter swing and tinkering with balance, but taking it from the cage into a game is the hard part." The slow start is unusual for the former University of Florida star. He entered this season with a .263 career average in April, the best of any month of the season, with 15 home runs and 60 RBIs. His power numbers pick up as the temperature rises, as evidenced by his 24, 23 and 25 home runs hit in June, July and August. "The hardest part for a hitter is finding his comfort zone," Pentland said. "Some find it quicker than others, and I tell the ones who take longer to not even look at the numbers. Just keep doing the little things and be positive." But that's easier said than done when you look up at the scoreboard and see a zero-something next to your name.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.