It took one tough play for the Seattle Mariners to get a hint that Dustin Ackley just might have the right stuff at second base.
The Mariners had a pretty good idea that Ackley could hit, given his reign of terror in the Pacific Coast League, where hed averaged .350 from May 1 through Wednesdays promotion to the big leagues.
The question was whether or not he could play defense. This was, after all, a 23-year-old who was converted from outfield/first base to second base after Seattle made him the second player taken in the 2009 draft. Second basemen usually go in the other direction.
Ackley singled in his first at-bat Friday against Phillies starter Roy Oswalt in what would turn out to be a 4-2 Seattle win. But his rite of passage didnt come until the eighth inning, with none out and Philadelphia speedster Jimmy Rollins was the plate.
Rollins slapped a hard grounder down the third base line that Chone Figgins picked up and, with his back foot in foul territory, threw to second base. Ackley was there, made the catch and got out of the way as Carlos Ruiz tried to break up the double play. Ackley jumped clear of Ruiz and gunned a throw to first base that doubled up Rollins.
“Im waiting to see that one on replay, Figgins said. “He doubled up Jimmy Rollins, and as fast as Rollins is, you dont do that too often. That tells me a lot about the way the kid plays defense.
Catcher Miguel Olivo, whose 11th homer gave the Mariner the only one of their four runs not scored by Ichiro Suzuki (two singles and a double), put it in simpler terms.
“When I saw that double play, that was amazing, Olivo said. “That double play tells me a lot, the way he turned it.
The chances are good Ackley will be judged more for his offense than for his defense. Men who play great defense arent generally taken with the second pick in the draft. Men who have the potential to be great hitters are. And so it will be with Ackley.
His first at-bat was something of a classic. He took two strikes, fouled a ball off, then slapped a ball back past Oswalt and into center field.
“I wanted to swing at the first pitch, Ackley said in utter frankness of his first at-bat. “But when he went into his windup, I sort of got mesmerized and couldnt get the bat to move.
When he did, he had a memory, but also the promise of a future in which he will grow into an essential part of the Seattle attack.
Manager Eric Wedge says he doesnt want to burden Ackley with unrealistic expectations, but those are going to be there, wanted or not, for any player taken with the second pick in the draft.
“I just told him to go out there and play, Wedge said of his welcoming chat with Ackley. “Dont try to do any more. Youre one of 25. Everybody here has a job to do, and youre no different.
“Dont worry about the expectations. Just have fun with it.
Starting pitcher Michael Pineda, who was in Ackleys position on April 1 when he made the roster as a rookie, would be someone for Ackley to emulate.
Pineda pitched Friday and looked as if hed been doing nothing else for the last five years. That struck shortstop Brendan Ryan, who suggested the attitudes shown by Pineda, Ackley and other rookies promoted this year may have something to do with the way the minor league teams are handling those players.
“Each and every one of these guys comes up and acts like hes done it before, Ryan said. “That shows me something.
Pineda showed the Phillies, the team with the best record in baseball something. He threw a no-hitter for five innings, then gave up two hits and a run in the sixth. By that time he had a 3-0 lead, and a double by Ichiro and a Ryan single pushed the lead back to three runs in the seventh.
“Everything tonight started with Pineda, Wedge said. “He pitched a great game, did a real good job against a good team. He had to work to get out of the sixth, but ultimately he did get out of it. It was nice.
The Figgins-to-Ackley-to-Justin Smoak double play wiped out a chance for a big inning for the Phillies in the eighth, and it was a good thing for Seattle that Ackley turned it, because the next batter, Shane Victorino, homered off Aaron Laffey to cut the deficit to 4-2. The Phillies would get no closer.
“To have a debut against a good team like the Phillies and a good pitcher like Oswalt and to play for a winner, thats awesome, Ackley said. “You dream of getting here, but to get that first hit in the first at-bat, thats special.
“And to play against Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and all those guys, its like `Wow!
Its hard to say it any better than that.