Seattle's young guns

Seattle Mariners Felix Hernandez pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning of...

Seattle Mariners Felix Hernandez pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game in Seattle, Washington, May 28, 2011. (REUTERS/Marcus Donner)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:09 PM ET

TORONTO - Youth movements in professional sport are filled with some exciting moments that are more often than not overwhelmed by the rookie mistakes.

The Seattle Mariners, so far, are the exception to the rule.

With youngsters up and down the lineup not to mention the starting rotation, the Mariners are right there with the Cleveland Indians as the surprise teams of the American League.

The Mariners took another step in the direction of youth Friday with the promotion and immediate insertion into the starting second base role of 2009 first-round selection Dustin Ackley.

The addition of Ackley gives the Mariners seven players on their every day roster 25 or younger with five of those seven holding down starting jobs. Ackley is the ninth rookie to appear on the roster.

Ackley and Justin Smoak start at second and first respectively while Carlos Peguero is in left field. Felix Hernandez is at the top of the pitching rotation with Michael Pineda in the No. 5 slot.

Mike Carp and Greg Halman see time backing up in the outfield, at first and at the designated hitter spot.

That's a whole lot of youth in some very key positions but it's working out for the Mariners who entered play Friday night a game over .500 and a half game behind division-leading Texas.

Ackley, if anything, is expected to make the Mariners a more potent offensive team although he and the team readily admit he's still learning how to play second base.

Ackley was taken in the draft immediately following Washington Nationals' phenom Stephen Strasburg.

"It's time to get him up here," manager Eric Wedge told reporters. "He needed more experience at second base at the triple-A level, but he's ready to be up here. I hate to option Luis Rodriguez out, but he does have options. I'm sure he'll be back. But Ackley is a guy we feel strong about. We like his bat and he's made tremendous strides at second base."

The Mariners converted the North Carolina standout into a second baseman after he had spent his collegiate career playing in the outfield and at first base.

Whatever they give up in defence with Ackley, they are more than willing to take as long as his offence comes with him from Tacoma.

With the Mariners triple-A team, Ackley was hitting .303 with nine homers and 35 RBIs. He also boasted a .421 on base percentage.

Seattle, despite a solid start, is the lowest scoring team in the American League and have the lowest team batting average in the AL as well.

A CASE FOR AVILA

Joe Mauer returned to the Minnesota Twins lineup Friday night after a 57-game stint on the disabled list.

It is three weeks until the all-star game and Mauer has nine games under his belt. Chase Field in Arizona is likely not in his future, but that leaves a huge opening for another American League catcher who normally would not get the chance.

Right now Canada's own Russell Martin of the N.Y. Yankees leads the fan voting by a solid margin over Detroit's Alex Avila, but it is Avila who has put up the numbers.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland has jumped through hoops trying to keep his bat in the lineup as often as possible despite getting all-star type numbers from his other catcher, Victor Martinez, who is deployed predominantly as a DH. Avila has had 54 starts at catcher, four as a DH and with the interleague portion of the schedule upon us again Leyland's even toying with the idea of putting Avila at third in order to keep both Martinez and Avila's bats in the lineup in games where the DH is not available.

Avila has been remarkable this season hitting .304 with nine homers and 38 RBI's. Among catchers he's at the top of the list in slugging percentage, second in OBP, second in batting average, leads in RBIs, and is tied for fourth in both homers and doubles.

On top of all of that he and Justin Verlander, a guy who is making no-hitters seem ho-hum this season -- because he chases one so often -- have developed a rapport most batterymates can only dream of.

"It's pretty tough to be on the exact same page as a catcher, but as far as a rapport, I feel really comfortable with him back there," Verlander told mlb.com.

QUICK HITS

By taking three of four from the Milwaukee Brewers this week, the Chicago Cubs produced just their second divisional series win of the season. The Cubs now have divisional series wins over Milwaukee and Houston but are just 2-9 in those situations ... How about those Red Sox. They pushed back the start time of Saturday's game with Milwaukee from noon to 6 p.m to ensure no overlap with the parade plans of the NHL champion Bruins. The Sox will even include a pre-game tribute to their fellow professional skaters.

mike.ganter@sunmedia.ca


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