SEATTLE -- Since coming to the Major Leagues in 2012 from Japan, Norichika Aoki has never been in the Minors except for seven rehab games in two separate stints while with the Royals and Giants the last two years.But the 34-year-old outfielder said he wasn't stunned to learn the Mariners
SEATTLE -- Since coming to the Major Leagues in 2012 from Japan, Norichika Aoki has never been in the Minors except for seven rehab games in two separate stints while with the Royals and Giants the last two years.
But the 34-year-old outfielder said he wasn't stunned to learn the Mariners had optioned him to Triple-A Tacoma on Friday as part of a spate of roster moves.
"I haven't been able to produce as I always do and up to my standards," Aoki said through translator Kosuke Inaji. "So I figured that's the way MLB works. I wasn't surprised."
Manager Scott Servais said Aoki's demotion was necessary in order to add an extra reliever to a bullpen that was taxed heavily during a 2-8 road trip that ended with the relievers needing to pitch all 10 innings of Thursday's 5-4 loss in Detroit after starter Adrian Sampson injured his elbow during his final warmup tosses.
"It's a combination of two things really," Servais said. "Where we're at pitching-wise is one thing. But his performance level hasn't been what he normally does, particularly against left-handed pitching. I think that's an area that needs to get better.
"Nori considers himself an everyday player and to be an everyday player you've got to be able to hold your own against the lefties as well as the righties. His numbers up against right handers are very similar to what he's done his whole career, we just haven't quite seen it from the lefties yet. So it's an opportunity that I think he'll take it in the right way, an opportunity to work on some things and with there being a position that when our pitching does get straightened up here, then we can bring him back."
Aoki has started 62 of Seattle's 73 games this season, but Servais said he'll use Nelson Cruz more in the outfield and play Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee together more now in the first base and designated hitter tandem instead of platooning those two strictly at first base.
Aoki, who signed as a free agent with Seattle in December, has put up a .245/.323/.313 line in 67 games, well below his MLB numbers of .287/.353/.386 in his prior four years with the Brewers, Royals and Giants.
The Mariners envisioned him as their leadoff hitter and table-setter, but he's stolen just four bases in 11 attempts and was dropped to the bottom of the order in recent weeks. Additionally, he's hit just .177 against left-handers this year, well below his career average of .304.
"Hopefully I'd like to emphasize hitting lefties," Aoki said of his upcoming stint with Tacoma. "That's something I've always been able to do, but I haven't this year. So I want to get that going again."
Aoki said he's fully healthy and that hasn't been an issue. What has been a problem is his performance, he said, and he'll work to get back on track.
"I feel sad that I haven't been able to contribute to the team as much as I'd like to," he said. "But on the other hand, it motivates me to come back again as fast as I can and produce up here. There's still a lot of the season left. Hopefully I can come back and help the team out in the second half."
Aoki's stint figures to be relatively short, but any player optioned to the Minors can't be recalled for at least 10 days unless he's replacing a player who is going on the 15-day disabled list. But Aoki said he's not worried about how long his stay in Tacoma will be at this point.
"That's something I'm not really thinking about," he said. "All I'm thinking about is making the best of every day."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter [
@GregJohnsMLB]() and listen to his podcast.