3/23/2014 7:46 P.M. ET
Different feeling has Ackley confident, ready for season
Outfielder has been among Cactus League's top hitters this spring
By Chris Gabel / Special to MLB.com
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Dustin Ackley the Mariners have seen this spring is the one they thought they were drafting No. 2 overall in 2009. Ackley is hitting at a high clip, finding the gaps, getting on base and even driving in a few runs.
The fact that Ackley has a hit in 17 of 19 games, leads the Cactus League in hits, and ranked in the top 10 in doubles, on-base percentage and total bases is great. But Spring Training stats won't mean anything a week from now.
"What does it equate to in the regular season?" Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said.
It is a question asked about dozens of players each year as Spring Training winds down. How much credence do exhibition stats warrant?
Ackley, now entrenched in the outfield after he began his career as a second baseman, knows he won't hit .423 during the regular season like he has this spring. But it is not the numbers he wants to take with him when the Mariners leave Arizona.
"People don't put a lot into the stats in Spring Training. But I put a lot into how I've felt and the confidence you build in the spring," Ackley said Sunday morning. "I think that's huge. You can't really put into words what that does for you. I think taking everything I've done and just being consistent with that is going to be the biggest thing."
The 26-year-old Ackley is confident the success he has experienced this spring will follow him into the games that matter. McClendon has an equally positive outlook.
"I hear scouts all the time say, 'Don't get caught up in Spring Training.' Well, we have to get caught up in something," McClendon said. "You have to believe in something. We try to temper it.
"What I try to do is put guys in the most pressure situations I could this spring, to see what we really have. But the fact is, when the lights come on, you don't really know how anyone is going to react, other than guys who have track records."
After quickly climbing through the Mariners' system, Ackley made his Major League debut in 2011 but is a career .245 hitter in 356 big league games. He struggled so mightily to begin last season that he was sent to Triple-A for a month in late May.
After his return, Ackley hit .304 following the All-Star break to somewhat salvage his season.
What Ackley changed wasn't as simple as a single click all in one instance. But he learned something about himself during the demotion and has continued to apply it this spring.
"It's pretty much all mental," Ackley said. "For me, the problems I've had in the past, like last year, were more mental, and those are the things I've needed to work on to be more consistent. When I am there mentally, physically everything lines up, too. I feel like, mentally, if I'm up there ready to hit each pitch, my swing will be there. But if I'm not, it's going to be a battle. It's just a matter of getting your head right up there and trying to take all the other distractions out."
Ackley hit .365 last spring and it didn't transfer. What is to say this season will be different?
"Now I can tell the difference between what's real when I get up to the plate and what's not," Ackley said. "This spring has felt way different in that regard. Last spring, I hit well, but it didn't feel quite right. But this time around it feels right; the ball is coming off as good as it ever has, and I feel more comfortable than I ever have.
"This is how it's always felt any time I've had success in my career. That's something to build upon, knowing physically this looks right, and mechanically and mentally it feels right."
Of course, the test doesn't begin for a week. If Ackley starts slow, how will he handle it?
"That's going to be the biggest thing going forward," Ackley said, acknowledging not even he knows for sure. "It's going to be a big test. I've been through a lot now, and I think I know how to handle it."
Ackley felt good during the Mariners' first series a year ago but the results weren't there. So he tweaked and tinkered. It only made things worse.
"I think it is important [to start strong], but I also think I'm at the point now where I can decipher those mental thoughts and keep those things out," Ackley said. "In the past, when I've had my struggles, I've wanted to take off the gas pedal instead of hitting the gas pedal. You can't get tentative.
"I want my confidence to be there even when I'm not doing well. I think those are the most important times, when you are struggling and kind of doubting yourself. That's when you need to step back and tell yourself this isn't what I'm going to do; I'm not going to go down this path again, because I've already been down it before and it didn't work."
Chris Gabel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.