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Bay's production rises with surge in playing time

Originally a platoon outfielder, former slugger earns starts with consistent play

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SEATTLE -- When Jack Zduriencik signed Jason Bay to a low-risk one-year contract in December, the Mariners' general manager said he just wanted the former slugger to relax, play baseball and see what happened.

A month into his $1 million deal, Bay has shown signs of being a solid contributor to Seattle's offense, enough that he's gone from the fifth outfielder at the beginning of the year to a guy who has started six of the last seven games and has seen his production rise along with the playing time.

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Bay, 34, has had at least one hit in each of those six games, batting .450 (9-for-20) with one home run and six RBIs. The streak raised his average from .184 to .276, and it has hiked the confidence of manager Eric Wedge to the point where Bay is now starting against some right-handed pitchers and not just platooning with Raul Ibanez.

In 22 games, Bay has backed up the .276 average with a .368 on-base percentage and a .431 slugging percentage, with three doubles, two homers and eight RBIs. He hit .165/.237/.299 with two doubles, eight homers and 20 RBIs in 70 games last year for the Mets, who then cut him loose despite the $21 million still owed on his original four-year deal.

"It's been good," Bay said before the Mariners headed to Toronto to begin a five-game road trip that starts Friday. "I had a couple years of real inconsistency, so I was just looking forward to getting to a new place and getting some new ideas with some people and getting out there and applying it, whether it was going to be in 300 at-bats or 600 at-bats or whatever it is."

Bay said when he made the club out of Spring Training that he'd happily accept whatever role came his way. But after a slow start, he's earned more time.

"I kind of knew that was up in the air," Bay said. "What's happening right now is exactly what I kind of envisioned, on and off, and if you're playing well, you get in there. Kind of sing for your supper, if you will."

Bay's tune has been appreciated more and more by Wedge, who has needed outfield help with injuries to Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders, though the latter has now returned.

"He's had some big hits for us," said Wedge. "He's spraying the ball around. Obviously he's had great success in his past and he's made some adjustments here that have really paid off for him. So hopefully he'll keep going."

As a three-time All-Star who averaged 29 home runs and 99 RBIs over a six-year span with the Pirates and Red Sox from 2004-09, Bay has the pedigree of a big-time producer. But the Mets saw little of that power after he signed a four-year, $66 million deal in 2010, so Bay became a million-dollar reclamation project this year for Seattle.

"It's been probably better than I expected, actually, just given how refreshing it's been to get here and just be another guy on the team and literally do whatever they need," Bay said. "Whether it's defense, [running], whatever it is, I think a lot of it comes from me being OK with that.

"There are a lot of guys all over sports that kind of think they should be doing more or given more. I'm comfortable with where I'm at. If that's playing every day, which would be great, that's going to be up to me."

After a strong spring, Bay came out of the gate slowly in the regular season. He says he didn't lose his confidence despite his recent struggles with the Mets, but knew he needed to produce to play more. Two things gave him that opportunity -- Ibanez struggling and Bay showing a quality approach at the plate even before the hits started falling.

"I didn't have the at-bats or a ton of time [early]," Bay said. "I understood that. That doesn't really change what I did, but I think there's a little more sense of urgency to really try to batten down the hatches. It's just not always that easy.

"Everybody here wants to do better, quicker. I've just been lucky enough to get some results lately. And like I said in spring, when you get those results, you can breathe a little bit and go from there. So it always helps. I think just given the situation I'm in, I just need to be that much better."

So far, he's been pretty good. And if he continues getting better with increasing playing time, the Mariners just might have an early American League Comeback Player of the Year Award contender on their hands.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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