Don’t just let his debut performance last week against the Philadelphia Phillies speak for him.
Take it from some of his new Seattle Mariners teammates, who all spoke highly of the former Walnut Cove native after making his MLB debut in interleague play versus the team with baseball’s best record last Friday night at Safeco Field in Seattle.
Even Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard knows that Ackley has the potential to be a special player in the majors.
The former South Stokes super stud was 1-for-4 in his Mariners debut. In his first at-bat, Ackley faced an 0-2 count to Phillies ace Roy Oswalt before knocking a single up the middle to get his first MLB hit, which drew a loud ovation from the 34,345 people in attendance.
The hit bounced through the legs of Oswalt and into the outfield, which put the prized rookie on first where he stood next to Howard.
As he was walking off the field after a Mariner flew out for the final out of the inning, Howard went out of his way and exchanged some words with Ackley right behind the pitchers mound.
“He just told me congratulations on the first hit,” explained Ackley, who was drafted No. 2 overall in 2009 out of the University of North Carolina. “He walked over and just said those couple of words and that was it. That was pretty cool for him to come out of his way to do that.”
As Howard walked into the Phillies dugout, he looked at all of his teammates as they were preparing to bat with a smile and said, “Man, that Ackley kid is going to be one hell of a player. He’s going to be special.”
In his second game the following night, Ackley knocked a solo home run over the right field wall to give the Mariners their only run in a 5-1 setback to the Phillies. In the visitors’ dugout, Howard reiterated what he said the previous night.
“I told you that cat was going to be good,” said Howard to his teammates.
That’s pretty telling, especially coming from a guy who won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award in 2006 and has 267 career home runs and has a World Series ring, multiple National League championships and a number of NL East division championships.
As Ackley came off the field and entered the dugout, he was greeted by teammates who celebrated the accomplishment with him. He was given a bear hug by ace Felix Hernandez, who made the start on the mound in the loss for the Mariners.
“I was so happy for him because I think that guy can hit,” said Hernandez, the reigning 2010 Cy Young winner. “It’s true, he can hit.”
After both games, Mariners first-year manager Eric Wedge was complimentary of the way Ackley performed at the plate. The former Saura made contact on all eight of his at-bats in his first two games, finishing with a single and a home run.
“He’s getting stuff out of the way,” said Wedge. “He put up a good at-bat. He gets the barrel to the baseball and he has a very consistent approach. When you have that with his ability, you are going to give yourself a chance up there and that’s what he does.”
In the eighth inning of last Friday night’s win, Ackley was responsible for a double play, that could be deemed the play of the game. With a runner on first, Jimmy Rollins hit a grounder to third base. Mariners third baseman Chone Figgins fielded the ball and threw it to second, where Ackley stood with confidence.
Ackley caught the ball, made the quick turn and threw the ball to Justin Smoak at first, while leaping over a sliding Carlos Ruiz for the 5-4-3 double play.
The double play was huge because on the next at-bat, Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino hit a solo homer.
Wedge said he was more proud of Ackley’s defense moreso than his offensive performance, where he made contact with the ball on all eight of his at-bats.
“That was a hell of a turn in that eighth inning,” said Wedge. “Figgy (Figgins) did a good job of getting rid of it and getting it to him with something on it and Dustin did a good job of hanging in there and getting rid of it with something on it to first base there. That was a big play for us.”
Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan described the twin killing as ‘the play of the game.’
“That was the play of the game,” said Ryan, “absolutely, the play of the game. It was not an easy one either from end-to-end. It was not a terribly hard hit ball. Figgins had to go to his right. It was such a tough spin for Ack, it was his first game anyway. Then they get something going after that. That was huge. That was absolutely huge.”
Since being drafted, Ackley has spent the last two seasons in the minor leagues with the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx and the Triple-A club the Tacoma Rainiers.
With the Rainiers this season, Ackley was batting .303 with nine homers and 35 RBI in 66 games.
Ackley isn’t the only Mariners rookie making a name for himself this season. Rookie pitcher Michael Pineda went six innings, allowing just two hits and one run in last Friday’s win. He walked three and struck out five to improve his record this season to 7-4 overall.
“I don’t know what they are teaching these kids in the minors,” said Ryan. “You get Pineida and Ack and these guys all come up and they all have really good poise. I know in my first day, I was a mess. They are both very calm and they both act like they have been here before which has got to be nice to see if you’re the manager.”
Wedge believes that Ackley does have a bright future with the Mariners organization and has been pleased with the way the former Saura has stayed true to himself during his stint in the minors and during his first few games in Seattle.
“He’s a quality guy,” said Wedge with a smile. “I think the way he handled himself in the spring and how he’s handled himself in the few days he has been up here serves him well. We’ve got a good clubhouse with a good group of guys in there and he blends in fine.”