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Originally published Sunday, March 20, 2011 at 7:52 PM

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Jack Cust no fan of spring training

New Mariners designated hitter admits he struggles with spring training. "There's too much time to tinker with stuff and when I do that, it tends to mess me up," Cust said.

Seattle Times staff reporter

PEORIA, Ariz. — If only Jack Cust could feel as centered at spring training as a pair of his home run blasts looked the other day.

Cust knows he's starting to get the timing down on his swing when his long balls fly out to dead-center or the opposite way to left-center. And that's what happened against the Texas Rangers on Saturday, though Cust admits that spring training is usually the last place he's able to feel truly comfortable.

"I usually don't feel comfortable at spring training," Cust said. "There's too much stuff going on. Too much down time when we aren't hitting. You're standing in the field a lot. There's too much time to tinker with stuff and when I do that, it tends to mess me up."

Cust continued to swing a hot bat in the first inning of a 4-1 win over the San Diego Padres on Sunday, driving home Chone Figgins with a single to right off Padres left-hander Wade LeBlanc. The hit off a southpaw was big, since the Mariners are hoping to give the left-handed-hitting Cust the majority of designated hitter at-bats this season against both righties and lefties.

But later in the same contest, Cust also showed part of the downside to his game by striking out his next three times up. He has struck out a team-high 18 times in just 44 at-bats.

The Mariners can live with Cust's feast-or-famine results at the plate if he keeps his power numbers up and manages an on-base percentage around his career .378 mark. He's nowhere near that in Cactus League play, checking in at .328 to start Sunday's game, but as Cust says, he has never been much of a spring training performer.

It's only in recent seasons that Cust grew comfortable with the DH role to begin with. He used to prefer playing left field because his numbers were better when he could keep his head constantly in the game.

That's something Cust has spent long hours working on. He has come up with various ways to stay loose between at-bats, also employing visualization techniques to help him concentrate better.

"It can get ... I don't want to say boring, but sometimes the games can be slow-paced," he said. "And when they're slow like that and it's a long time between at-bats, you've got to find something to keep you loose, to keep you active."

His pregame ritual always involves a trip to the video room. It lets him brush up on what the opposing pitcher is throwing and helps with the visualizations he uses to stay alert.

"I just need a couple of hours," he said. "I like to watch it closer to game time, so that it's fresh in my mind when I have to go up and face a certain pitcher."

Cust spoke briefly with Edgar Martinez when the former DH was in camp last week to work with players. But Cust said he already has his own routine pretty down pat and wasn't seeking advice from Martinez as much as just chatting with him.

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But for a guy whose livelihood depends so much on an ability to keep loose and alert during downtime, Cust admits he's nowhere near figuring this spring training thing out. For one thing, he doesn't do video study down here, figuring the work schedule is already long enough.

"Also, you have to remember that the pitchers here are tinkering with stuff," he said. "They might be trying something new, or working on something. Just because you see them do something on video here doesn't mean they're going to use it when the regular season begins."

Cust has tried to cut down on all the tinkering he does with his approach, though he admits he's already tried about a half-dozen different bats. His spring difficulties cost him last year, when a poor performance with the Oakland Athletics led to Cust being designated for assignment the final day of camp and beginning the season in Class AAA.

Cust hit .272 for the A's with 13 homers and 59 runs batted in to go with an .833 on-base-plus slugging percentage in 349 at-bats after a recall in mid-May. But the experience of being cut so late and other things that happened in Oakland seem to have left a mark on Cust, who expressed delight last December at getting a fresh start with the Seattle organization.

There's zero chance of Cust being cut this spring. The Mariners know what he can do in the regular season and are prepared to wait the spring out, feeling their new DH can kick it into high gear when it matters.

"I'm comfortable with being a DH and know what I have to do to prepare," Cust said. "Once the season starts, I'll have my routine and be ready to go. For now, I've just got to get through this."

San Diego Seattle
AB R H BI AB R H BI
Venable dh 4 0 0 0 Ichiro rf 3 1 1 0
Bartlett ss 3 0 0 0 J.Bard c 1 0 1 1
Frandsen ss 1 0 0 0 Figgins 3b 2 1 1 0
O.Hudson 2b 3 0 1 0 L.Rodrigz 3b 1 0 0 0
E.Cabrera 2b 0 0 0 0 Bradley lf 3 0 1 2
Cantu 3b 3 0 0 0 M.Wilson lf 1 0 1 0
Hawpe 1b 3 1 1 1 Cust dh 4 0 1 1
Guzman 1b 1 0 0 0 Langerhns cf 4 0 0 0
Denorfia rf 3 0 2 0 A.Kenndy 1b 3 0 1 0
D.Robertsn rf 0 0 0 0 Jo.Wilson 1b 1 0 0 0
Maybin cf 3 0 1 0 Ja.Wilson ss 3 0 0 0
E.Williams lf 0 0 0 0 Kazmar ss 1 0 0 0
Quiroz c 3 0 2 0 Ryan 2b 2 2 1 0
Cnnghm lf-cf 3 0 0 0 Ackley 2b 0 0 0 0
C.Gimenz c-rf 3 0 0 0
Totals 30 1 7 1 Totals 32 4 8 4
San Diego 010 000 000 1
Seattle 100 020 10x 4
E — Figgins (2). DP — San Diego 3. LOB — San Diego 4, Seattle 6. 2B — Denorfia (5), M.Wilson (1). 3B — Ryan (1). HR — Hawpe (2). SB — Figgins (3).
Padres IP H R ER BB SO
LeBlanc L, 0-3 6 5 3 3 1 5
Adams 1 3 1 1 0 2
Qualls 1 0 0 0 0 1
Mariners IP H R ER BB SO
Bedard W, 2-0 5 5 1 1 1 2
J.Wright 2 1 0 0 0 0
J.Lueke 1 1 0 0 0 0
League S, 1 1 0 0 0 1 1
HBP — by LeBlanc (Ryan). A — 8,232.

M's spring training stats

Through Sunday

Batters AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB AVG
Baron 9 2 6 1 0 1 2 0 .667
Ja Wilson 29 7 13 1 1 1 6 3 .448
Liddi 13 3 5 0 0 2 8 0 .385
Moore 19 5 7 2 1 0 3 0 .368
Figgins 33 8 12 2 0 0 5 3 .364
Bradley 29 3 10 4 0 1 9 1 .345
Lngrhans 34 4 11 3 1 1 3 1 .324
Tsosopo 24 2 7 2 0 0 2 0 .292
Ackley 25 5 7 2 1 0 3 1 .280
Ichiro 36 6 10 1 0 0 3 2 .278
Cust 44 7 12 3 0 3 9 0 .273
Bard 19 3 5 2 0 0 2 0 .263
Carp 19 1 5 2 0 0 3 0 .263
MWilson 19 5 5 1 0 1 2 0 .263
JoWilson 31 4 8 0 0 0 2 1 .258
Chavez 16 3 4 2 0 1 1 0 .250
Saunders 33 5 8 0 1 0 0 0 .242
Gtierrez 25 4 6 2 0 0 3 0 .240
Gimenez 17 2 4 2 0 0 3 1 .235
Halman 17 1 4 0 0 1 3 0 .235
Kennedy 31 6 6 0 0 2 7 1 .194
Smoak 32 5 6 1 0 1 5 0 .188
Peguero 17 2 3 0 0 1 2 0 .176
Mangini 12 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 .167
Ryan 33 3 5 1 1 1 5 0 .152
Rodriguez 27 5 4 1 0 1 2 0 .148
Kazmar 22 2 3 2 0 0 3 0 .136
Olivo 10 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 .100
Gross 26 2 2 1 0 1 5 0 .077
Pitchers W-L SV IP H ER BB SO ERA
Haeger 0-0 0 1.0 0 0 1 0 0.00
Paredes 0-0 0 3.0 2 0 2 1 0.00
Patterson 0-0 1 1.0 1 0 0 1 0.00
Ring 1-0 0 5.0 5 0 3 4 0.00
Robles 0-0 0 1.0 1 0 2 1 0.00
Roe 0-0 0 2.0 0 0 2 2 0.00
Smith 1-0 0 2.2 3 0 1 0 0.00
Wright 1-0 0 8.0 4 0 1 4 0.00
French 0-0 0 8.0 12 1 1 8 1.13
Pauley 0-0 0 7.0 7 1 1 7 1.29
Laffey 1-0 0 6.0 7 1 2 0 1.50
Bedard 2-0 0 10.2 8 2 3 10 1.69
Lueke 1-0 0 8.2 7 2 1 4 2.08
Ray 0-0 0 4.0 4 1 1 2 2.25
Vargas 1-0 0 12.0 12 3 1 7 2.25
Wlhlmsen 0-0 0 6.0 6 2 4 5 3.00
Pineda 0-0 0 11.0 12 4 4 8 3.27
Cortes 0-0 0 4.0 3 2 5 3 4.50
Dlcarmen 0-0 0 4.0 2 2 4 1 4.50
Seddon 0-0 0 4.0 4 2 1 1 4.50
Fister 1-1 0 13.1 16 7 4 7 4.73
Hernandz 1-1 0 6.2 14 4 3 10 5.40
Olson 0-0 0 5.0 7 3 4 3 5.40
Petit 0-0 0 1.2 3 1 0 1 5.40
Beavan 1-0 0 7.0 9 5 2 3 6.43
Castro 0-1 2 7.0 8 5 2 6 6.43
Jimenez 1-0 0 8.1 13 7 3 6 7.56
Robertsn 0-1 0 7.0 11 6 2 7 7.71
League 0-2 1 8.0 9 7 6 6 7.88
Miller 0-0 1 6.2 8 6 1 6 8.10
Flores 0-0 0 3.2 4 5 4 3 12.27
Bautista 0-0 1 4.2 6 7 3 6 13.50
Medina 0-1 0 1.0 3 2 0 1 18.00

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com.

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