Servais gives Aoki a test drive in CF

Regular LF was six-time Gold Glover in center in Japan

March 9th, 2016

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Nori Aoki figures to see most of his playing time in left field this season for the Mariners, but manager Scott Servais had the 34-year-old in center field for Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the Indians at Goodyear Ballpark, and says he'll see more time there in the future.
Indians leadoff hitter Jose Ramirez immediately put Aoki to work with a double off the right-center fence. Aoki got to the ball quickly and wasted no time firing it back to the infield. His hurried throw rolled wide of cutoff man Shawn O'Malley, though O'Malley recovered it with a sliding stop and fired to second to catch Ramirez rounding the bag too far.
Mariners Spring Training info
Chalk up an outfield assist for Aoki, though O'Malley deserved much of the credit on that one. But Aoki -- a six-time Gold Glove center fielder in Japan -- said it was nice being back at that position, where his last regular-season start in the Majors came in 2013 for the Brewers.
"It was the first time in a long time, but it didn't feel awkward at all. It felt great," said Aoki, who has started just 14 of his 468 games in center in his four-year Major League career.
Aoki had only one other play in his five innings, easily handling a line drive right at him, but Servais' first impression was positive.
"He played it very well," he said of Ramirez's game-opening double. "He knew he wasn't going to catch it, played the carom and got it in. He's comfortable out there. I'm not worried about him at all in center field."
Servais plans on using Leonys Martin in center field the majority of time this season, but Martin doesn't hit left-handers well, and the option of sliding Aoki to center and opening up a corner spot for Franklin Gutierrez or Nelson Cruz against tough southpaws intrigues the skipper.
"Looking at his track record in Japan before he came over here, he was primarily a center fielder and a multiple-time Gold Glove winner," Servais said. "His experience before coming to the States had been out there, and we've had him out there in the outfield the last few days and have talked to him about the importance of being able to step over there. I think he's kind of looking forward to it."
Servais says he's just looking at options for now.
"He does have a little better track record against left-handed pitching than Leonys, so it does give us some different options there," Servais said. "We'll see how it goes. I don't want to jump out and say it'll be 'X' amount of games or 'X' amount of times per week. We'll just have to see how it goes."
Aoki is off to a slow start at the plate as his 0-for-3 on Tuesday puts him at .083 (1-for-12) in the early going. But he's just getting his timing down at this point and says he's getting comfortable in the Mariners clubhouse as well. It certainly helps having fellow Japanese standout Hisashi Iwakuma on the team to ease the transition.
"I'm very grateful," Aoki said through translator Antony Suzuki. "I've known Kuma for a while. He's a great friend off the field, too, and I'm very fortunate for that. I look forward to building a championship team with him."