CHC@SEA: Ackley makes putout in first start in center

SEATTLE -- Dustin Ackley was demoted to Triple-A Tacoma as a slumping second baseman earlier this year. On Friday, he returned to the Mariners' lineup as a hot-hitting outfielder, batting sixth. While making the conversion from infield to outfield, Ackley hit .365 with the Rainiers and had a 16-game hitting streak.

"I feel night and day better than I did when I first got sent down," Ackley said. "It's been a huge learning experience for me, just going down there and working at it and getting better mentally with at-bats, and things like that."

Ackley has not played very much outfield in his career, just occasionally in college and in the Minors. During that time, he spent most of his time in left field, not center, where he made the start on Friday.

"We'll see how it plays out," manager Eric Wedge said. "I've never seen him out there, I've gotten reports and whatnot, so it's a good opportunity to get him out there and watch him play."

The move to outfield for Ackley was necessitated by the play of rookie Nick Franklin at second base. Since making his Major League debut in late May, Franklin has gotten a hit in 20 of 26 starts, hitting .287 and becoming one of Seattle's most consistent run-producers.

With Franklin looking more and more like the Mariners' second baseman of the future, there was no other choice but to send Ackley to the outfield. In center, he replaces the oft-injured Franklin Gutierrez, and Michael Saunders, who is batting just .211 this season.

Wedge said that Saunders would still have a significant part-time role due to his versatility, and the uncertainty of whether Ackley would be better suited to center or left field.

"It's going to be fun, I'm just excited to be back here with the Mariners first and foremost," Ackley said. "I'm ready to get back going, and continue to get better every day."

Friday's lineup vastly different than Opening Day

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SEATTLE -- One game shy of the halfway point in the season, the Mariners fielded a lineup on Friday night against the Cubs that included just three players who started on Opening Day, a testament to the transition underway, as well as some injuries that have hit the club.

Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Morse are on the disabled list, while Michael Saunders, Brendan Ryan and Justin Smoak were on the bench. Jesus Montero was sent to the Minors and is now on the disabled list, as well.

The only starters from Opening Day were Kyle Seager, Kendrys Morales and Dustin Ackley, with Ackley making his first start since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma.

The changes are pretty simple in manager Eric Wedge's mind.

"You want to play more, do better," Wedge said. "I'm a very patient man. I always have been a patient baseball person. But there's a point in time where you have to give others an opportunity, there's always somebody coming. And whether there are young players in the lineup today or not, doesn't mean that he is or isn't going to be a part of this thing. There's only so many spots to play, we're going to handle this as best we feel."

Ryan lost his starting shortstop role Friday with Brad Miller's promotion and Saunders could lose playing time if Ackley plays well in center field. Saunders is hitting just .211, but can play all three outfield spots.

"He's got to do better than what he's doing," Wedge said of Saunders. "I think he's been a little better the past couple days, but it's been inconsistent. He's scratched the surface of what we feel like he's capable of doing, starting last year and early this year. He's been in a funk for a while, so hopefully he can get it back."

Worth noting

• The Mariners outrighted right-handed reliever Josh Kinney to Triple-A Tacoma. The 40-man roster remains full, as Kinney had previously been on the 60-day disabled list.

• Friday was the first Interleague start for Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma. He's made six relief appearances against National League teams, but never a start.

• The Mariners have six walk-off losses, tied for most in the American League with Detroit and Texas.