HOUSTON — Dustin Ackley is slowly finding the hitting stroke that made him one of the Seattle Mariners’ prized prospects not that long ago.
After being demoted to Triple-A Tacoma in May and converting to the outfield with Nick Franklin’s emergence at second base, Ackley is fighting his way back to being a big league hitter.
Sunday offered a glimmer of hope.
Ackley went 3-for-4 with two RBI in the Mariners’ 12-5 win over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
He started the Mariners’ seven-run second inning with a hard infield single up the middle with the bases loaded. Ackley has a career .583 average (14-for-24) with the bases loaded.
He entered the game hitting .204 (10-for-49) since his return to Seattle. He was hitting .205 when he was sent down May 27. But manager Eric Wedge said he believes things are getting better.
“I think he’s starting to be rewarded,” Wedge said. “I thought he had a lot of hard outs early on. But he’s finding some holes now. He’s on top of the ball better, especially the other way. That’s a good indicator for him, getting on top of those line drives he’s hitting to left field.”
Ackley feels as though his luck is starting to change.
“Over the last couple days especially, balls I’m squaring up are finding holes and finding the outfield,” he said. “That’s always a confidence booster. When a team is rolling like this, that’s another important thing, too.”
Ackley very well could have had four hits.
His sinking liner in the fifth inning was caught by a diving Marc Krauss in left field. It still resulted in a sacrifice fly as Kyle Seager made a heady baserunning play to get back, tag up and score.
“That guy made a pretty good play,” Ackley said. “Fortunately, Seager was on third and made a nice base-running play and tagged right there.”
LUETGE GETS HIS MOMENT
A good portion of the announced 38,838 fans at Minute Maid Park had already dispersed when Seattle’s Lucas Luetge jogged in from the bullpen to pitch the eighth inning.
But a small cheer arose from the stands, and it was for Luetge.
Having grown up in nearby Industry, Texas, a town of about 300 people, Luetge had his own personal cheering section.
“I could hear the little cheers in the background,” he said. “So it made me feel pretty special having everyone here.”
Besides Luetge’s mother, father and two brothers, several people from the town made the 80-mile trip to Houston.
“It was quite a big group,” Luetge said. “We had charter buses from a couple of the local banks. And some of my family didn’t get to make it because they went the last two days. But I would guess 40 to 50 people. Maybe more. I don’t know.”
Luetge had large fan contingents for the first two games in Houston, but he didn’t play in either game.
“That’s the thing I always tell them — I don’t know if I’m going to get to pitch or not,” he said. “I hope I do. And I’m glad I did. There were a lot of runs, and I’m glad I got some work because I haven’t pitched in a while.”
Luetge looked sharp during his 1-2-3 inning, striking out Chris Carter and Carlos Corporan.
“When I got that last strikeout and came in and they told me I was done, it was kind of a sigh of a relief,” Luetge said. “I did good in front of them. You want to do good. A lot of those people don’t get to come see me. My parents get to watch every game. But a lot of the other people just see the stat line.”
Luetge wasn’t with the Mariners during their April trip to Houston, so there was some distraction this weekend with all the ticket requests and people wanting to talk to him.
“This was the first time in Houston for me,” Luetge said. “It was a little crazier for me, staying out there a little longer and meeting with people and taking pictures.
“The more and more I come back, it will get easier — a little more calm.”
The Mariners open a seven-day, seven-game homestand Monday at Safeco Field, starting with a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians. Seattle will send right-hander Aaron Harang (4-8, 5.38 ERA) to the mound for the start. Cleveland will go with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (7-4, 4.56). First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Root Sports.email@example.com 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish