Dustin Ackley’s major-league career has been a series of growing pains.
Billed as a can’t-miss prospect with a knack for contact, he had a strong rookie campaign in 2011 and looked solid in the field at second base.
Then came the struggles.
His second and third seasons had prolonged slumps at the plate, and not only was his hitting ability still a big question mark entering the 2014 season, but he was also suddenly a former second baseman learning how to play the outfield.
The Mariners themselves have had their growing pains since Ackley’s arrival, but this season has been a turning point. They’re right in the middle of the postseason race, and Ackley himself has been a big part of the turnaround – especially lately.
Ackley has been on a tear since July 1, hitting .308 with five home runs, 13 doubles and 26 RBIs. He’s established himself as the Mariners’ usual No. 2 hitter over the stretch, and he made a huge statement over the weekend by going 5 for 13 with a homer, five runs and six RBIs in a three-game sweep of the Red Sox.
Ackley still had to rebound from an extended slump earlier this year, but adjustments at the plate have worked wonders, as he told 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Danny, Dave and Moore” on Monday.
“For some of us, there’s a lot of learning curves, there’s a lot of struggles and you just gotta grind through it,” he said. “I started off pretty well, I got cold for a while, had to find my way through some things with my swing, had to tinker with some things. Then finally it felt like once July started and after the All-Star break things started clicking.”
A tendency to pull the ball into groundouts was Ackley’s biggest issue, but he was able to identify the problem and made the right tweaks to get back on track.
“It was just a matter of just staying on balls, hitting it to all fields. I know early on I was hitting a lot of balls to the right side and I knew I needed to go the other way, but it wasn’t just something I could just go out there and do it,” Ackley said. “It’s something you gotta work with and figure out how to do that. For me, it was just going up there and just tinkering with a couple little things with my stance and my set-up to put myself in a position to drive the ball and hit the soft stuff and hit the hard stuff everywhere.
“Once that started clicking and once I got some results and the confidence starting building, it kinda just took off from there.”
Ackley’s improved confidence somewhat mirrors what the Mariners have done in the past month. A swoon after the All-Star break left them at 53-50 on July 25 and in danger of falling out of playoff contention, but since then they’ve reeled off an 18-9 record and hold a slim lead over the Tigers for the second wild-card berth.
“Our confidence is definitely a lot better now than say maybe a couple months ago in the middle of the season,” Ackley said. “We’ve won a lot of games in a lot of different ways, and I think just our confidence level as a whole is a lot better knowing that even when we get down or behind late or early … we’re still capable of coming back and scoring runs and being in the game.”
That was certainly the story this past weekend in Boston, when the Mariners came from behind in each win of their three-game sweep, the first in franchise history at Fenway Park.
“The more we win games like that, the more things start to get rolling,” Ackley said. “I think for us we’re probably at the best point we’ve been now in a while.”