Kendrys Morales can be a hard guy to pin down, given how much time he spends in the batting cages. Then, when you do pin him down, there’s the small matter of talking to him because he speaks only Spanish and I…don’t.
But, thanks to minor league instructor Rafael Colon, who fortunately can speak both languages, a few of us were able to catch up with Morales this morning.
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Morales has gone deep in back-to-back games for the Mariners after being eased slowly into Cactus League play in his first full spring since breaking his ankle celebrating a home run against Seattle in 2010. He’s got four home runs for the spring in only 38 at-bats and has made a huge impression on coaches and teammates with the work he’s put in behind the scenes.
“I’m working hard in the batting cage and things are starting to come about,” Morales said. “I go about my business in the batting cage every day, working hard, and I’m having some success.”
Morales said the work began well before spring training. But he’s used the camp to sharpen his focus so that he’ll be ready once the season begins. He’s aware that some of the team’s younger players have watched him go about his work.
“I’ve always been very approachable,” Morales said. “I’ve had some players come up to me. There’s been great communication. And the players that have come up and asked questions, I’ve been happy to share information with them. Then, obviously, it’s up to them to apply that information.”
Morales said he learned his preparation routine from watching the veterans on the Los Angeles Angels when he was first coming up. Morales wasn’t always suited for middle-of-the-order hitting, but ultimately grew into the role.
“My experience in the big leagues, obviously, has been a big factor,” he said. “And that’s helped me gaiun more confidence and that’s helped me continue there with confidence in the middle of the lineup. And it’s a responsibility I take very seriously.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge made it a point after yesterday’s game to mention how the presence of veterans like Morales, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay has had a trickle down impact on the rest of the lineup.
“You can’t help but be better when you watch these veteran guys take BP, the way they go about their business each and every day,” Wedge said. “It’s what we talked about that we didn’t have last year but we do have this year. It’s only going to help those younger kids understand what it takes to be a successful big leaguer.”
Wedge doesn’t have Franklin Gutierrez in the lineup today after he played center field yesterday following a week’s absence. Wedge told me the day off today was a planned one and that Gutierrez feels fine. The rest today is a precautionar one, but Wedge plans to have Gutierrez in the lineup regularly starting tomorrow.
“This is the time in camp when you’ve got to get it going,” he said.
If Gutierrez does get it going and isn’t on the DL to start the season, I’m starting to think Casper Wells might not be with the team very much longer. The Mariners — barring injury — are only going to carry five outfielders and Wells is battling for that fifth spot with Jason Bay.
So far, Bay has done everything the team hoped he would when he was signed for $1 million ($500,000 guaranteed if he didn’t mke the club). His bat is looking solid — when he isn’t batting leadoff, at least — and his defense hasn’t been the liabiity some imagined it might be. The Mariners used Bay in right field yesterday and Wedge said it was in order to get a look at him in case the need arises in-season to start shifting guys around in-game.
“I’m comfortable with Bay in both left and right,” Wedge said. “As I am with a few of those other guys too. I think that’s important for us. We’ve got, obviously, some decisions to make but I want to make sure we can be as versatile as we can be with the people who are going to be here.”
Unless one of the outfielders starts the year on the DL, there won’t be room for Bay and Wells. And while Wells can play all three outfield spots, if Gutierrez can stay healthy (a big if) the team will already have one backup center fielder in Michael Saunders and won’t need a second one. Even if Gutierrez doesn’t stay healthy, you’ve still got Saunders to fill in and that’s where the ability of Bay and others to replace Saunders in either outfield corner would come into play.
That’s how I’m reading the tea leaves this morning.
Down below, a look at the travel roster the Mariners are taking with them to Phoenix for today’s game against the Oakland Athletics.
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