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Topic: kendrys morales

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April 7, 2013 at 5:00 PM

Mariners have some work to do in order to get this offense firing

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Well, we’re one week into the 2013 season and we can already see signs of potential with this Mariners offense. For one thing, the power is there like we haven’t seen it in quite a while.

The Mariners have now hit nine home runs in their first seven games. Last year, they hit just three in their opening week and didn’t club No. 9 until their 13th game.

But a year ago, the Mariners were also 4-3. This season, they have started 3-4 after their fourth loss in five games today, a 4-3 walkoff defeat to Dayan Viciedo and the Chicago White Sox in 10 innings.

White Sox mob Dayan Viciedo at home plate after his walkoff homer handed Seattle a 4-3 loss.

White Sox mob Dayan Viciedo at home plate after his walkoff homer handed Seattle a 4-3 loss.

One of the reasons the Mariners have been losing more than winning is they’re starting to over-rely on the homer and aren’t finishing off rallies and innings with the kinds of key hits that can lead to multiple-run outbursts.

The signs are there, as I said. One of my big worries heading into the season was this team’s ability to get on base at the top of the order. Well, as of today, Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders have OBPs of .333 and while that’s not brilliant or anything it’s still loads better than the production seen up top in recent years.

Like I said, the Mariners have been getting on base. It’s what they do after that’s been an issue.

“It’s the first week and there are some good things that have happened and some things we need to get better with,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We need to settle in offensively. We know we’re going to be a good offensive club. But we need to settle in offensively, both different individuals and collectively. That will take some of the pressure off the pitching staff.’’


Comments | More in game analysis | Topics: Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, kendrys morales

February 22, 2013 at 11:40 AM

Mariners in spring debut against the Padres

Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez watches a Jedd Gyorko grand slam leave the park in the first inning of Seattle’s Cactus League opener.

1:40 p.m.: We’re midway through the sixth inning and it’s still a 6-0 game, so at least Seattle’s pitching has managed to plug the early Hector Noesi leak job. The Mariners have just two hits of their own today — singles by Michael Morse and Jesus Montero — so up to now, the first inning has been much of the story.

12:30 p.m.: So, that went rather well, didn’t it? I’ll spare you the short strokes. Hector Noesi threw 42 pitches, got only two batters out and yielded a grand slam to Jedd Gyorko along the way in falling behind 6-0 in the top of the first. Oliver Perez had to come on to get the final out on a hard grounder that shortstop Robert Andino made a nice play on.

In fairness, Noesi really did get three outs since Raul Ibanez let a Will Venable flyball to left field deflect off his glove for an error that put the first two batters on. That’s about all the fairness we’ll toss around after that stinkeroo turned in by Noesi.

The Mariners went 1-2-3 on just seven pitches in their half of the opening frame. Hey, it’s early. There, somebody was going to say it.


Comments | More in Cactus League | Topics: kendrys morales, michael morse, michael saunders

February 21, 2013 at 11:56 AM

Watch the Mariners do a pop-up drill

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This is always one of my favorite spring training drills. You get to watch the Mariners chase down pop-ups that look routine when you watch them on television, but can be pretty intimidating when witnessed from ground level.

Have a look.

The best catch I saw was by third baseman Alex Liddi just behind the bag in foul territory. Kendrys Morales also got some nice applause for a running, sort-of-acrobatic grab near the end. Acrobatic for him, in any event.

Kyle Seager also got some kudos from coach Robby Thompson for his racing grab in the infield.


Comments | More in spring training | Topics: alexliddi, kendrys morales, kyle seager

February 19, 2013 at 4:33 PM

A closer look at the off-season training done by Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak

Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak takes batting practice at spring training in Peoria, AZ.

Those of you who read my story in this morning’s paper saw plenty of quotes from Justin Smoak’s agent, Hunter Bledsoe, about the work he and the Mariners first baseman did this winter.

Bledsoe was once a top prospect coming out of Vanderbilt in the late-1990s, but his career as a third baseman topped out in Class AA for the Royals back in 2003. Injuries played a big part in that, but Bledsoe told me he remained very frustrated by his inability to find answers to his hitting woes while still playing. He began a quest during the latter stages of his career and then continued it once becoming a player agent. The quest? To find those missing answers about hitting that eluded him during his pro career so he can share them with others. Especially his clients.

For Bledsoe, the mental side of the game is key. And it plays a huge part in the swings taken by hitters.

I wrote today about how Bledsoe and Smoak worked out together at The Citadel in South Carolina, beginning about two weeks after the 2012 season ended. The first thing they did swing-wise was a technique Bledsoe picked up from other sports — during his quest for answers — known as “slow practice.”

In Smoak’s case, he would do “slow practice” by taking between 30 seconds and a full minute to complete a single swing at a ball on a tee. The idea was to perfect every aspect of the swing down to the last minutae. The best way to do that, according to Bledsoe, is slowly. The slowness allows the brain to process the muscle movements required to do a swing properly. Smoak did this for an entire month. It was only after he’d processed the correct swinging technique — one that enabled his hips and hands to function in-tandem — that they moved on to swinging at a faster pace.

Bledsoe wrote an article about this for the Baseball Think Tank website and it included a video demonstrating “slow practice” when it comes to hitting. He first heard of the technique back when learning martial arts, but as he points out in the article, it’s also something the world’s best golfers have used to perfect their swings.

The entire idea behind it is that if you practice too quickly and incorrectly, you will be doing more harm than good. Your muscles are going to “learn” the wrong stuff that will have to be unlearned. Better to teach them the correct stuff slowly and surely.

And in the end, it’s training the muscles to swing perfectly that Bledsoe is after. The way he sees it, a hitter’s brain can only process so much information at once. In Smoak’s case, it would be recognizing what the 95 mph pitch coming his way actually is, where it’s going and whether it’s in his hitting zone. The swing itself has to be instictive, not thought about. And the only way it can be instinctive is to train the muscles ahead of time to react correctly.

Sounds so simple, right?

Hah. Tell that to Smoak the past few years.


Comments | More in spring training | Topics: justin smoak. hunter bledsoe, kendrys morales, peoria

February 18, 2013 at 9:33 AM

Justin Smoak hopes his last September surge different from those before it

Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak takes a cut from left side during live batting practice today in Peoria, AZ.

Spoke briefly with Justin Smoak this morning about his plans for the spring and how he hopes to carry over the success he enjoyed last September. Let’s face it: September surges have happened for Smoak before.

In 2010, he hit .340 in September with an OPS of 1.001. Had anybody really dug into it, though, they’d have noticed the whole month was fueled by a lone 10-day stretch that began in Texas — where Smoak tends to hit very well — and saw him go 16-for-33 (.485) with four homers. He only appeared in six other games that entire month.

And yet, following that, there were pronunciations that Smoak was somehow “cured” of all that plagued him.

Fast-forward to 2011 and after a good start, Smoak eventually faded for four months. Then came September, when he hit .301 with a .793 OPS.

No, it wasn’t as good as his 2010 numbers, but they were still his best since April and done over 22 games instead of the 15 he’d had the prior September. And I don’t think anybody will complain too much about Smoak if he hits .300 with an OPS near .800 for the rest of his career.

Problem is, he hasn’t.

Along came 2012 and the strong September for Smoak faded into oblivion. He had his worst year yet, until…September! Smoak spent the final month hitting .345 with an OPS of 1.005 — this time over 26 games.

I mean, you really, really want to believe Smoak has turned the corner this time. Jack Zduriencik wants it even more, believe me. He staked his reputation on the Cliff Lee trade and Blake Beavan, John Jaso/Michael Morse or not, if Smoak doesn’t pan out, the mega-deal goes down as a bust.

So, I asked Smoak,what’s different this time?

“This past one was different for me, compared to the other two,” he said. “The other two were good Septembers, but I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

Come again?

“At the end of last year, I got something from it,” he said. “The other two before that were good, but I don’t really know what I did. The last one, I made some adjustments and it was a confidence-builder for me.”


Comments | More in spring training | Topics: cliff lee, Jack Zduriencik, Justin Smoak

February 16, 2013 at 12:10 PM

Mariners outfielders get their work in, both at plate and in field

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Most of the interesting new additions by the Mariners this winter came in the outfield. So, I’ve got some video for you to see of this morning’s first full-squad workout by the team and it naturally features the outfielders. You can see Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay and others working on the fielding of ground balls in the first segment.

Later, there are shots of Morse, Ibanez and Kendrys Morales taking batting practice. Morse had the best drive of the day, a towering shot over the batter’s eye in dead center. I did not get footage of that, but did capture a few of the bombs hit by various guy. The last part of the footage shows Morse getting work in at third base. Remember, the Mariners are only planning to carry one full-time backup infielder in Robert Andino this year. After that, Morse will be used at third base and Kyle Seager at shortstop if Andino is otherwise occupied and some pinch-hitters/pinch-runners are required late.


Comments | More in spring training | Topics: batting practice, kendrys morales, michael morse

February 11, 2013 at 8:32 AM

Bill James online website picks Mariners as ‘surprise’ AL team in 2013

The Bill James online website has picked the Mariners as their AL choice to go from loser to surprise playoff contender. Photo Credit: AP

This one comes as a bit of a surprise, but not really if you’ve followed some of the winter moves made by the Mariners. The Bill James online site published a free item over the weekend that picks a “surprise” team in each league for the 2013 season. So, that rules out all teams that are expected to improve big-time over what they did last year — like, say, the Toronto Blue Jays, now favored by many to win the AL East.

What they are looking for is a losing team that jumps into contention — like the Orioles last season.

Their choice for this year? Your Seattle Mariners.

What the website likes about the Mariners is the youth of their hitters, the highly-rated farm system and the fact that the team finished above .500 in the second half of last season.

As I’ve written up to now, I think this is a Mariners team that could and should finish .500 or better. I do think it is capable of winning 85 games now that the Houston Astros are playing in the AL West.

The offense now has some true mid-order hitters in Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales that they’ve truly lacked since I arrived here in 2006. Couple that with the fences coming in at Safeco Field and some young guys like Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero being primed for a jump in their development and yeah, this offense should be a quantum leap better than in past seasons.

I still worry about the lack of experience in the starting rotation and the fact that Joe Saunders and Hisashi Iwakuma are being counted on to the degree that they will be.


Comments | More in predictions | Topics: bill james, Dustin Ackley, Jack Zduriencik

January 28, 2013 at 9:12 AM

Mariners heading into spring training with intriguing offense

The return of Michael Morse to Seattle is one of the intriguing upgrades the Mariners have made this off-season. Photo Credit: AP

Great to be back in town after a couple of weeks overseas. While I was away, I watched with interest as the Mariners attempted to upgrade their offense, getting rejected by Justin Upton before trading for Michael Morse. There were many things I wanted to write at the time, but with only texting capabilities, a few blurbs on Twitter were the best that could be managed from the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Looking at it now, the Mariners have as intriguing an offense as I can remember since I started covering the team late in 2006. They have clearly upgraded the middle of their batting order with both Morse and Kendrys Morales, while the wild-card to all of this is what moving in the fences could do for the club as far as power potential. When you look at the money involved, the Mariners effectively pulled off the acquisitions for a money cost of about $2 million between what they are paying Morales and Morse compared to the arbitration awards given Jason Vargas and John Jaso — the players given up in trade.

For my part, Vargas at $8.5 million is too pricey for a team determined to keep payroll below $100 million, so that’s a no-brainer and he should do well in Anaheim with a team that can afford that for a mid-rotation lefty. As for Jaso, I know there was a lot of teeth-gnashing locally over his departure, but again, the Mariners were not the type of team that were going to benefit the most from his services.

Jaso’s fate with Seattle was pretty much sealed the minute the Mariners made catcher Mike Zunino their No. 1 draft pick. With the idea to fast-track Zunino to the big leagues in a year or two — and 23-year-old Jesus Montero around as last winter’s big trade acquisition — there was not going to be enough playing time for Jaso a season or less down the road. The Mariners actually explored trading Jaso at last summer’s July 31 deadline and even after that and were somewhat surprised not to find much demand for his services.

One Mariners official I spoke to about Jaso in December told me the club had thought he profiled as the perfect addition for a National League contender, given how many more pinch-hitting opportunities he could have had in that league. The Mariners valued Jaso highly in exactly the role he was used in — as a part-time catcher and stellar late bat off the bench. They knew that part-time success in a limited number of at-bats does not always translate to the same numbers when playing time increases to 500 or 600 at-bats in a full-time role. That factor, plus Jaso’s defensive limitations behind the plate (one reason he caught consecutive games only three times all season) meant he was never going to be afforded a full-time opportunity by the Mariners.

And that’s why the team spent most of this off-season including him in trade proposals — from the late November talks with the Pirates about a deal for outfielder Garrett Jones that we reported on, to the Upton negotiations with Arizona, then, finally, to the Morse trade. Going forward, I think the A’s are the perfect AL club for Jaso. They are coming off a division title and hoping to contend again, wanted a second catcher to go with young Derek Norris and stand to benefit greatly from having a steel-nerved Jaso come off the bench late — given all the close games their still-young squad played last year.

If Jaso can develop beyond a part-time role in Oakland, then good for him. Point is, he was never going to get that chance with Seattle given the big commitments the Mariners have already made to get both Zunino and Montero. And as a backup catcher/pinch-hitter, Jaso’s $1.8 million arbitration award is about the limit a lesser-payroll team would want to spend for that. Jaso will be getting pricey his next two club controlled years if he indeed has peaked in the role best-suited to his abilities, so, the trading “three years of Jaso for one year of Morse” has been, I think, a tad overstated.

So, enough about Jaso. Now, on to the Mariners moving forward.


Comments | More in trades | Topics: Jack Zduriencik, John Jaso, kendrys morales

December 20, 2012 at 12:46 PM

Look for Michael Saunders to play much more right field for Mariners this year

Look for Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders to see more action in right field this year as part of upgrades in a revamped home ballpark. Photo Credit AP

There are only so many more things we can say about the Kendrys Morales deal before we find out who’s still here in spring training and see how they play. Yes, the Mariners could now, in theory, trade either Justin Smoak or Jesus Montero if the right deal comes along. Personally, I’d like to see how they fare in the revamped Safeco Field confines first. Also, until we know for sure that Morales can play first base more than a few times per week, he’ll have to have another guy there to replace him and it won’t be Montero or John Jaso, who the Mariners have already ruled out as realistic first base options.

One guy I still believe this deal dramatically lessens the chances of the Mariners getting is Nick Swisher, primarily because a lot of his value to Seattle lay in his ability to play first base as well as right field. Well, you now have Morales and Smoak as switch-hitting first basemen, so adding Swisher there really crowds the field. Also, I’m not sure the Mariners will be willing to spend the money needed to get Swisher. The money is still there, since the Mariners are actually saving a couple of million by flipping the Jason Vargas arbitration cost for that of Morales.

But having the money there, in theory, is not the same as actually spending it.

So, we’ll see what the Mariners actually do. If I’m wrong and they do indeed make a push for Swisher — and actually land him instead of finishing second — then you’d have a longer-term guy than Morales as a first base option. That part makes sense when it comes to protecting the team, as well as providing some leverage in what to do with Morales as you look towards an extension.

But still, Swisher is looking for impact-performer type money and the Mariners don’t view him as an impact bat in the Hamilton mode. I wrote about this last week when we discussed slugging percentages and the impact a one-swing game-changer can have on a lineup. So, for me, with Swisher, the money will be the big factor. The Mariners just got a guy I’m sure they view as more of an impact bat in Morales and they got him plenty cheaper than the Swish will wind up signing for.

Just my take. Feel free to disagree.

As for what will happen in the outfield this year, the one guy who could play a very prominent role in it is Michael Saunders. And I can see him performing that role more from right field this year than most of the people I read are really envisioning at this point.

Now, that would change if Swisher is signed. But since I really don’t see that happening, I do feel Saunders will be seeing quite a bit of time in the other outfield corner. The fact that Saunders is seen more as a left fielder and center fielder has more to do with Safeco Field than anyplace else. Safeco has always made it tough for left field defenders because of the way it’s configured and so, the Mariners naturally try to get their better outfield defenders at that spot.

But with the fences moving in, that will likely change.


Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: kendrys morales, Michael Bourn, michael saunders

December 19, 2012 at 5:27 PM

Kendrys Morales says he’s ‘100 percent ready to play every day’ at first base for Mariners

Kendrys Morales says he’s 100 percent and ready to play first base every day if needed. Photo Credit: AP

Well, the big question to come out of today’s acquisition by the Mariners of Kendrys Morales was whether or not he’d be able to play first base on a regular basis. He played there only 28 games last season of his 134 total with the Angels in his comeback from breaking his leg back in 2010.

Morales, 29, in a conference call minutes ago, said through interpreter Luis Garcia that this off-season is the strongest he’s felt since his injury and that he is back to 100 percent physically. When asked about playing first base regularly, he had this to say.

“At this point, I think I’m 100 percent,” he said. “I’m ready to play every day. Obviously, that’s not my decision. But at the end of the day, I’m confident knowing that I’m 100 percent ready to play first base every day if that’s what’s needed.”

So, we’ll see where the Mariners go from here with that.


Comments | More in trades | Topics: fences, Jack Zduriencik, jason vargas

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