SEATTLE — It was always a matter of when Dustin Ackley would finally get the call and make the trek up Interstate 5 as the prized prospect of the Seattle Mariners farm system.
Few thought it would come at a time when the Mariners are legitimately hanging around the fringes of the AL West lead.
Ackley will likely make his major league debut Friday as the Mariners host Philadelphia to begin a three-game series featuring one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, led by Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, facing the best team in the bigs.
For Seattle fans, the matchup will initially take a back seat to Ackley’s debut, which has been anticipated since the sweet-swinging second baseman was snagged No. 2 overall in the 2009 baseball draft, taken only after Washington scooped up pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg.
The transaction adding Ackley to the roster and optioning Luis Rodriguez to Triple-A Tacoma took place today.
“We expect him to come up and fall in place and contribute as well. We know his personality, we know the kind of guy he is and he’ll fit in really well with this group of guys,” Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “It’s nice what is going on and we’re going to continue as we’re doing right now. Guys that earn being up here have a right to be up here, will be here, and we think he’s earned that right.”
The addition of Ackley is just another step in the Mariners’ movement toward the future. This was expected to be a transition year, but the Mariners weren’t expected to be sitting one game over .500 at this point and nipping at the Texas Rangers for the division lead.
The Mariners already cut ties with Milton Bradley in favor of using rookies Carlos Peguero, Mike Carp and Greg Halman in the outfield. On the mound, Michael Pineda is among the top candidates for AL rookie of the year as the midpoint of the season nears, thanks to his 6-4 start, 2.72 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 82 2-3 innings.
And now comes the arrival of the Mariners’ future second baseman, a position Ackley has put in countless hours learning the past two seasons. He’s likely the final piece of the youth influx for now.
But he forces the Mariners to face a delicate balance. While the previous moves dislodged some veterans, Ackley’s presence will undoubtedly create changes.
He can only help a struggling offense that needed a ground ball to carom off second base and into the outfield to break a 19-inning scoreless drought in Wednesday night’s 3-1 win over the Angels. Ackley hit .303 in 66 games at Triple-A Tacoma this spring. He raised that average more than 80 points in the last five weeks after hitting just .211 on May 5. He’s got 13 doubles, six homers and 23 RBIs during that hot stretch.
“When you talk about what we’ve had to do up to this point in time in regard to juggling the lineup and getting guys in there, we’ve made it work to this point in time,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. “We’re still trying to find ourselves offensively and we think Ackley is going to be part of that.”
But ultimately there will be change and the questions remain how far the trickle down will go.
Adam Kennedy isn’t likely to be pulled from the lineup after being the Mariners’ most consistent hitter for much of the season, hitting .275 entering the weekend. But Kennedy has played 33 of his 51 games this season at second base and keeping his bat in the lineup on a regular basis means either a move to designated hitter — where Jack Cust has underperformed — or another spot in the infield.
Perhaps as a sign of changes to come, Kennedy was taking ground balls at third base before Wednesday’s game against the Angels, although Wedge blew it off as just something Kennedy does. Kennedy did start 82 games at third base for Oakland in 2009.
A move like that would potentially bump another veteran, Chone Figgins, from the lineup. Figgins has been maligned by fans since his arrival before last season, is hitting just .192 and has committed eight errors this season after committing a career-high 19 last year at second base.
Veteran Jack Wilson has become a bench player after his move to second base from shortstop failed to pan out, and Seattle had to send another veteran, Rodriguez, down to the minors just to make room for Ackley because Rodriguez had options remaining.
“Everyone is really excited for Ackley to get here and get going,” Seattle first baseman Justin Smoak said. “Everyone knows he can hit and we’re trying to do whatever we can do to make the ball club better and if it’s bringing him in everyone is excited.”