BY John Hickey 12:27AM 06/16/2011

Hickey: M’s have to make it work for Ackley

The long-awaited promotion to the bigs for the Mariners’ premier prospect was announced after the 3-1 win over the Angels. He was hitting .349 in his last six weeks.

Dustin Ackley's time with Tacoma is done. Friday, he'll be in a Mariners uniform. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Asked about second baseman Dustin Ackley, the Mariners’ top prospect from the 2009 draft, more than one scout told me this winter that Ackley had a chance to be a star, but he needed maybe another 300 at-bats in the minor leagues before he was ready.

They weren’t far off. The Mariners announced after Wednesday’s game that Ackley, who had 258 at-bats for Triple-A Tacoma and another 53 plate trips that resulted in walks, was being promoted to the big leagues.

The Mariners are off Thursday, but Ackley will take the roster spot occupied by infielder Luis Rodriguez (optioned to Tacoma) and will be in Safeco Field when the Philadelphia Phillies come to town.

This is big news for the Mariners, who have been under plenty of fan and blogger pressure to bring up the left-handed hitting second baseman who some think could add some zest to the Seattle offense.

“It’s time to get him up here,” manager Eric Wedge said after the announcement in the wake of a 3-1 win over the Angels. “We sent him down in spring training to get some experience at second base and more ABs at the Triple-A level.

“Ackley is someone we feel strong about. I like his bat. And he’s made great strides (defensively) at second base.’’

Given the state of the offense, it would be a supreme disappointment if Ackley didn’t add some zip. The Mariners offense is woeful despite a winning record (35-34 and one game out of first place in the American League West). The .228 team batting average and 45 homers rank 12th in the 14-team AL.

“We had talked that sometime in June was when he would be ready and in the discussions with the coaches down there, this is the time,’’ general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “He’s been swinging the bat well. So here it is.’’

The difficult part for Wedge and his coaches, not to mention the other players, is to avoid putting too much on the 23-year-old’s shoulders. He’s not a home run hitter, and can generate runs by himself.

Wedge talked in general terms about what it would mean to have Ackley up, but was short on specifics. The guess is that he will bat second, the perfect spot for a left-handed hitter with a .303 batting average and a .419 on-base percentage, although it should be pointed out that since May 1, Ackley is hitting at a .349 clip.

With Ackley batting second and Ichiro Suzuki looking more like his old self (two hits in each of his last five games, lifting his average since last Friday from .252 to .269) the top of the Seattle lineup might be ready to produce a steady stream of base runners for the middle of the batting order.

The Mariners are still looking for consistent production in the cleanup spot. Yet Carlos Peguero had a huge (if lucky) two-run single off the second base bag in the seventh inning to give the Mariners the win Wednesday, and he’s already hit five homers.

Considering that the Seattle cleanup hitters as a whole have hit just four homers, Peguero could be in the cleanup spot to stay, at least against right-handed pitchers.

“All the reports have come back that (Ackley’s) progress has been very satisfying,’’ Zduriencik said. “The one thing you never know is that the game up here is quicker and faster. And until you give a guy a chance up here, you hope it’s going to continue.’’

By waiting until mid-June, the Mariners not only gave Ackley the 300 at-bats he needed, they made virtually certain that he wouldn’t be a so-called “Super 2,” one of a group of first-year players who rank in the top 17 percent of time spent in the big leagues and become eligible to go to salary arbitration after two years instead of the normal three.

Free agency is pushed back a full year, too.

“We’re going to make it work,”’ Wedge said when asked about how he’d find playing time and positions to suit the needs of his roster. “I think when you talk about what we’ve had to do up to this point in terms of juggling our lineup and keeping guys in there, we’ve made it work. We’re still trying to find ourselves offensively and we think Ackley is going to be a part of that and we’ll make sure that Adam (Kennedy) gets his at-bats as well.’’

Kennedy may share time at DH and at third base. He was taking grounders at third before Wednesday’s game, which fueled speculation that a move on Ackley was near.

Twitter:@JHickey3


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