SEATTLE -- Felix Hernandez knows he's going to need help in turning things around for the Mariners, which is why Seattle's ace frequently acknowledged the makeover under way on the offensive side of the roster, even amid the frustrations of the 2011 season.
"These young guys," Hernandez would say, nodding across the clubhouse, "they're going to be very good."
Hernandez has been the constant force atop the club's pitching rotation, which is why he has been selected as the Mariners Pitcher of the Year by MLB.com.
As selected by MLB.com, awards have been designated in three categories -- Pitcher, Perfomer and Breakout Player -- for each of the 30 teams.
And help indeed appears on the way, as rookie Dustin Ackley was named Player of the Year for the Mariners and Mike Carp earned Breakout Player of the Year honors.
The two youngsters took very different paths to the big leagues. Ackley, the second overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, was fast-tracked to the Majors after a little more than one season in Minor League ball. Carp spent five years in the Minors before getting his first call with the Mariners in 2009, then subsequently was sent back down four different times before finally making his mark in his second stint with Seattle this past year.
"Ackley has a chance to be a special hitter. I think we all knew that," said Mariners skipper Eric Wedge. "That's the reason he was picked when he was picked. That's the reason he's been on the path he's been on.
"I think Carp has had to earn it a little more. This is a guy that's been up and down in '09, up and down in '10. Then he was up and down here the first time [this year]," said Wedge. "I know he wasn't particularly happy about that, nor should he be. But when we brought him up that next time, I said, 'Listen, you're going to play. You're going to get your opportunity.' And he is a great example of taking advantage of that."
Ackley achieved Player of the Year status despite not arriving in Seattle until June 17. But soon after his promotion from Triple-A Tacoma, it became apparent the former North Carolina star was ready for prime time.
The 23-year-old second baseman finished the season among the team leaders in on-base percentage (.348), batting average (.273) and slugging percentage (.417).
Despite playing just 90 games, he led all American League rookies with 40 walks, was second with seven triples and tied for seventh in RBIs, with 36. His on-base percentage lead all AL rookies with at least 250 at-bats.
Wedge thought enough of the youngster to put him into the No. 3 spot in the batting order just three weeks after his arrival, and he hit .270 with 15 doubles, five triples, three home runs and 28 RBIs in 71 games at that position. Houston's J.D. Martinez had the second-most games batting in the No. 3 spot among rookies in the Majors, with 44.
Additionally, Ackley quickly established himself as a quality glove man at second base, silencing the doubters who felt he wasn't suited for that position after being moved there in 2010.
Although he played just three and a half months of the season in Seattle, Ackley finished fifth among AL second basemen in "Defensive Runs Saved" in the Bill James Handbook 2012, and he and shortstop Brendan Ryan ranked second behind the Rangers' Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler among all 30 Major League double-play combinations using that defensive metric.
Carp's breakout effort started even later than Ackley's, as he arrived for his second stint in Seattle a month later, on July 19. But the 25-year-old then proceeded to force his way into Wedge's lineup with a 20-game hitting streak that helped him win AL Rookie of the Month honors in August, when he batted .313 with 25 RBIs and six home runs.
Carp finished the year hitting .276 with 12 home runs, 46 RBIs and a .466 slugging percentage in 79 games, proving he belongs somewhere in the Mariners' lineup in the future.
Through it all, Hernandez kept doing his thing, finishing his seventh season in Seattle with a 14-14 record, 3.47 ERA and 222 strikeouts in 233 2/3 innings. He was selected to his second All-Star team and became the first pitcher in Mariners history with three seasons with at least 30 starts, 200 strikeouts, 200 innings and an ERA below 3.50.
Consistency is what makes him "The King." And now Hernandez knows he just needs to fill in the rest of the court with talented players -- like Ackley and Carp -- in order to get where he ultimately wants to be.