Baseball

Dustin Ackley's majors moment

TODAY: PHILADELPHIA AT SEATTLE, 7:10 p.m., safeco field, root sports, 1240-AM, 1030-AM The oft-asked question has been answered.

No longer will Seattle Mariners fans have to ponder, “When will Dustin Ackley be called up?”

The top prospect in the organization has arrived. He will make his much-anticipated debut today at Safeco Field against the Philadelphia Phillies and three-time All-Star right-hander Roy Oswalt.

Not exactly a soft landing for the kid. But he’s going to have to face someone like Oswalt eventually, might as well rip off the band aid and have him do it in his first at-bat. Besides, it could have been worse. It could have been Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said it best when it came to the decision: “It was time.”

With a 2-for-4 performance Wednesday night, Ackley raised his average to .303 (82-for-271) in 66 games. He had a .421 on-base percentage, thanks to a Pacific Coast League-leading 55 walks. He was slugging .487, with 17 doubles, three triples, nine homers and 35 RBI.

So while the question of when Ackley would arrive in Seattle has been answered, a new set of questions emerges.

How much will he play?

Where will he hit in the batting order?

How will manager Eric Wedge dole out the playing time among his infielders?

What can we expect from him?

The first three questions are easy to answer.

Ackley likely will play at least five days a week. When you call up a prospect like him, he plays, he doesn’t sit. If he’s going to sit, he might as well stay in Triple-A.

He’ll likely bat lower in the order – sixth, seventh or eighth – but if he has success, he could find himself in the No. 2 spot.

Wedge will find playing time for Adam Kennedy – one of the team’s better hitters – by using him at second, third, first and designated hitter.

Jack Wilson? He’s just hoping to for a chance with a new team.

But the last question, that’s not as simple.

How a player reacts to their first time in the major leagues can vary like Ichiro’s day-to-day wardrobe selections.

Some players come up and excel immediately. Evan Longoria did so in 2008 for the Tampa Bay Rays, hitting .272 with 27 homers and 85 RBI and being named AL Rookie of the Year. Eric Hosmer is doing it with the Royals, hitting .288 with five homers and 22 RBI in just 37 games.

But others have come up and struggled initially. We’ve seen it before, firsthand.

Think about the last three celebrated position-player prospects for the Mariners that were called up before September – Adam Jones in 2007 and Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien in 2008. All three put up perhaps even gaudier numbers for the Rainiers before their midseason call-ups and none of them really did much initially.

Jones, who had a midseason call-up in 2006 under his belt, was called up on August 2 after 101 games with the Rainiers. He had been hitting .314 (132-for-420) with 25 homers and 84 RBI. With a clogged outfield, he played in just 41 games and hit .246 (16-for-65) with two homers and four RBI.

Clement and Balentien were both crushing Triple-A pitching when they were called up on April 30, 2008. Clement was hitting .397 with five homers, eight doubles and 20 RBI in 23 games. He would go on to hit .227 (46-for-203) with five homers, 10 doubles and 23 RBI, while striking out 63 times in 66 games with the Mariners. Balentien was hitting .254 with six home runs, five doubles, and 20 RBI in just 17 games with the Rainiers. He would appear in 71 games for the Mariners and hit .202 (49-for-243) with seven homers and 24 RBI, while striking out 79 times.

Of course, Ackley’s in a better situation than Jones was in 2007. Then-interim manager John McLaren was in over his head and allowed José Guillén to turn the situation into an uncomfortable mess.

Ackley doesn’t have the dual responsibility that Clement had as a catcher, either. And his knowledge of the strike zone and approach is vastly superior to that of Balentien, who made Carlos Peguero seem patient.

Even Chase Utley, the player that Ackley is often unfairly compared to, struggled in his first few attempts in the big leagues, and was sent back to Triple A.

There seems to be no true base line for success or lack thereof for a player in this situation.

But by all observations, Ackley should be able to handle it all. He seems to be a solid, well-grounded kid. He is a tireless worker, who soaks up coaching. The transition to second base showed as much. It wasn’t easy, but not once did Ackley complain.

Rainiers manager Daren Brown can list many things he likes about Ackley, but one of his favorite qualities is his ability to learn and adjust.

“If he makes a mistake, he doesn’t make it again,” Brown said.

It’s what he will do with the Mariners.

So what should Seattle fans expect from Ackley?

Perhaps the better question is to ask is this: “What is fair to expect from Ackley?”

It’s fair to expect him to struggle at the plate. This is big-league pitching. The fastballs are tough, the sliders have a little more bite, and everyone has changeup.

The Mariners would gladly take .270-plus batting average, an on-base percentage around .320, lots of doubles and eight or nine home runs.

But it’s more realistic to expect a quality at-bat almost every time up. Earlier this season, a scout said this about Ackley’s approach: “This kid puts up a mature, major league-level at-bat every time he’s up. You don’t see that in everyone.”

It’s why when he struggled early this season in Triple-A, he didn’t change a thing. He has an understanding of himself as a hitter and what makes him good that some players never find.

It’s fair to expect him to make an error or two in the field. He is not as good Roberto Alomar, but he isn’t as bad Jose Lopez. He’s athletic and unafraid.

It’s fair to expect him to be one of the hardest- working players on the team. He will hit extra. He will take extra ground balls. He will do whatever he is asked to do.

So what’s fair to expect from Dustin Ackley?

It’s easy. Just let him be Dustin Ackley and the rest will take care of itself.

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com

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