M's Ackley batting .362 in his past 16 games
The Seattle Mariners talented second baseman and projected cornerstone of the franchise struggled badly to start the season.
The numbers weren't pretty. In his first 14 games, he was hitting .113 (5-for-47) with six strikeouts and no extra base hits.
He wasn't hitting. He wasn't making hard contact. The changes he'd made in the offseason left his timing off and his swing behind. Fans and pundits talked of a possible demotion to Class AAA Tacoma and it seemed plausible.
But Ackley scrapped some of the swing changes, went back to his old pre-swing technique and gradually began to hit. It wasn't a tidal wave of success but an ongoing build.
First he got his timing back. Next he started hitting the ball hard. Base hits followed, followed by a few extra base hits.
On Saturday, Ackley delivered his biggest hit of the season, crushing the first grand slam of his career off Toronto starter and reigning National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey to lead the Mariners to an 8-1 victory over the Blue Jays.
"That hit was the separator for us," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
Ackley looked a little confused against Dickey in his first at-bat. He struck out looking without taking a swing. He vowed to not let that happen in his next at-bat.
He stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. The night before he came up with bases loaded and delivered an RBI single. He got a little more this time, blasting a 3-2 knuckleball over the wall in right-center.
"It was a good pitch to hit," Ackley said. "It wasn't one of his best knuckleballs I don't think. He's really tough. You can't really figure out what that knuckleball is going to do. Fortunately for me that one didn't do much."
Ackley certainly wasn't trying to hit out of the park. He would have settled for another single.
"I was just trying to barrel it up," he said. "I told myself to let it get deep and put a good swing on it. I was in disbelief at first that I hit it as well as I did."
Over his past 16 games, Ackley is hitting .362 (21-for-58) with three doubles and the homer. Ackley is hoping more extra base hits will follow.
"I think that's something I can hopefully continue to improve on, to hit the balls into the gaps," he said. "Singles are great, but doubles and home runs are even better. Hopefully, I can get the loft on the ball you want to see like with (Michael) Saunders on those home runs."
Wedge, who stuck with Ackley during the struggles, believes it will get better.
"It's a boost," Wedge said. "It also continues to push him in the right direction. You've seen him stay pretty consistent for a period of time. You know it's in there. You've seen him drive the ball. For him to stay through and hit to right-center field, you have to do a lot of things to hit a ball like that."
For Mariners fans anxiously awaiting the return of center fielder Franklin Gutierrez or hard-throwing reliever Stephen Pryor, they will have to keep waiting. Neither player seems to be much of a possibility to rejoin the Mariners in the near future, according to Wedge.
Gutierrez has yet to resume any sort of baseball activities since suffering a strained hamstring on April 22 against the Astros.
"We are going to take a look at him when we get back for those three days and go from there," Wedge said.
Pryor is recovering from a strained latissimus dorsi muscle he injured on April 14.
"Pryor is making good progress, but it's still going to be a while," Wedge said. "Being such a big guy and how he throws, it's going to be a while."
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