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Young players lead charge as Mariners nip Rays

UPDATED: Sat., July 30, 2011, 9:03 p.m.

By Kirby Arnold Everett Herald

SEATTLE – While manager Eric Wedge continues to yearn for a veteran to make a consistently positive impact on the Seattle Mariners’ offense, the reality is that the young players are left to do it.

Saturday, two of them were the difference in the Mariners’ 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Safeco Field.

Rookie second baseman Dustin Ackley hit a two-run homer in the first inning and double in the sixth, and 25-year-old left fielder Mike Carp drove Ackley home with a single in the sixth.

Those clutch hits, along with rookie starter Michael Pineda’s one-hit pitching through 61/3 innings, gave the Mariners their first home victory since July 3.

“It’s nice to see those kids in the middle get it done for us today,” Wedge said.

Without them, it would have been another game when scoring would have to happen by prayer.

Of the veterans, only Ichiro Suzuki, Josh Bard and Chone Figgins got hits.

“We keep pushing for the veteran guys to be a little bit better,” Wedge said. “Obviously, we’ve made some changes and we’ll continue to do what we can to be a better ballclub. The young kids we’re building with, who we’re trying to answer questions about, they’re the key as you move forward. We’ve got quite a few up here and we’ve got more coming.

“But you also have to have a nice group of veteran ballplayers, either veterans who we get going or we’ll make adjustments.”

Among those on notice is center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, 0 for 6 on this homestand and batting .187 for the season. With Casper Wells, acquired in Saturday’s trade with the Tigers, expected to join the team today, Wedge will have another young option in the outfield.

The biggest concern among the young players is first baseman Justin Smoak, who struck out twice in a 0-for-3 game and is on a 0-for-14 streak. He’s hitting .218.

The least of the Mariners’ worries is Ackley, who’s batting .310 and is sixth on the team with 20 RBIs despite 129 at-bats.

In his first at-bat, Ackley worked Rays starter Alex Cobb into a full count, then unloaded on a change-up. He drove it over the center-field fence for a two-run homer.

Ackley described the at-bat like he’s a veteran hitter with an approach – something Wedge has demanded but rarely seen of the older players.

“On a 3-2 count, you know the guy’s going to try and throw something over the plate and not walk you,” Ackley said. “I just looked fastball. His fastball was low to mid 90s. I’d seen all his pitches to that point.”

Same thing with Carp, who was batting cleanup for the first time as a big leaguer. He lined a change-up into right field to score Ackley, breaking a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning, giving him five RBIs in his past three games.

Brandon League, in his first save opportunity since July 5, got three straight outs in the ninth to record his 24th save.

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