HOUSTON – Dustin Ackley doesn’t have a large bank of experience, but until recently, the only Mariners offense he’s known during his three seasons has been marked by its inefficiency.
The Mariners believe that’s changing, and they hold up Sunday’s 12-5 win over the Astros as the latest evidence of a revived attack.
“This is about as good a stretch as we’ve had since I’ve been here in 2011,’’ Ackley said. “This is a great feeling. It’s not like we’re doing it here or there. We’ve been doing it every day for the last couple weeks, so that’s definitely an exciting thing.”
No team in the majors has scored more runs, or hit more homers, in July. After winning with just one hit on Saturday, they pounded out 13 on Sunday en route to their sixth straight win.
The biggest blow was Nick Franklin’s first career grand slam, part of a seven-run second inning that staked Felix Hernandez to a 7-0 lead. Hernandez was unable to hold an identical lead June 20 in Anaheim, but he didn’t this one slip away. Hernandez worked six shutout innings for his 11th win.
“I didn’t think about that at all,’’ manager Eric Wedge joked, referring to the Angels game in which Hernandez gave back all seven runs.
“Yeah, I’m sure it was in the back of everyone’s mind,’’ he conceded, “but he was a different animal today. He’s one of those guys, it might happen once, but it’s not going to happen again.”
Hernandez allowed four hits and struck out seven while lowering his American League-best earned-run average to 2.43. He has won his last six decisions and hasn’t lost since May 25 (“Don’t tell me that,’’ he said with a roll of his eyes.)
Hernandez goes back much farther than Ackley in his Seattle archives, and has been the leading victim of the Mariners’ past offensive futility. He’s thoroughly enjoying seeing how the other half lives.
“Right now, this is the best,’’ he said. “The confidence right now is one of the best. All those guys go to the plate and just fight every at-bat, and if (pitchers) make a mistake, they’re going to hit it out of the ballpark. They’re unbelievable.
“They’re being aggressive. Sometimes they’re being selective, and if you throw a strike they’re going to hit it. They’ve been putting good at-bats and we’ve been scoring a lot of runs.”
With his slender frame, Franklin is not your prototypical power hitter, right down to his trademark double-flap helmet. But his results defy that characterization.
“They always say I’m like wiry strong,’’ Franklin said after his latest display of longball prowess.
The grand slam – which gave the Mariners the major-league lead in that department with five — came off Houston starter Jordan Lyles, who was charged with 10 runs in four innings. Franklin has seven homers in his first 45 major-league games, with 24 runs batted in.
“I definitely put the work in the weight room, though obviously it doesn’t look like it,’’ Franklin said. “Other than that, I just try to square the ball up as much as I can. If it goes out, it goes out.”
Ackley added three hits and was robbed of a fourth. He wound up with a sacrifice fly as the result of a sliding catch by Houston left fielder Marc Krauss. Wedge believes Ackley may be turning a corner despite bringing a .205 average into the game, the same as before his demotion to AAA Tacoma.
“I think he’s starting to be rewarded,’’ Wedge said. “I thought he had a lot of hard outs early on. I still think he does, 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.”
The Mariners drew three walks in the game to give them 17 in the series. Ten of those have come around to score, another indication to Wedge that the offense is humming.
“What they’re doing a better job with is, hey, if they’re not going to pitch to me, I’m going to drop my bat and go to first base and let the next guy go. But if I get two strikes, I’m going to fight, fight and fight, and hopefully get a pitch I can do something with.
“It’s that fine line between being aggressive and yet being under control with it.”
The key for the Mariners now is to keep walking that line.