PHOENIX — The finished product of Kendrys Morales as a hitter has been honed and crafted over time.
He wasn’t born with his seasoned hitting approach. There wasn’t one moment where it all just clicked for him. It wasn’t simple or fast. He watched, he listened, he asked questions and, most importantly, he learned.
From his younger days playing in Cuba, where he first became a star, to when he defected to the United States and became a coveted free-agent, Morales understood he didn’t know everything. Instead, he embraced the teachings of the older, established players around him, soaking it all in and adding to his routine.
“I’ve played with a lot of veterans in Cuba and over here,” he said this week through his translator, Rafael Colon. “What I’ve learned is basically from them and what to do is from them.”
There’s a maturity to Morales as a hitter. He’s never in a hurry. He’s never emotional. If he looks bad on one pitch, he makes an adjustment on the next.
“When you are in it every pitch, and you give yourself a chance with every pitch, and you are (a) good hitter, good things are going to happen,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
And this approach isn’t just in games, it starts in batting practice. There is a focus, a purpose to every swing.
It’s reminiscent of Edgar Martinez’s obsessive and meticulous batting practice sessions.
“I learned it from being around veterans,” Morales said. “I work on hitting the ball up the middle first.”
Wedge thinks his young players will learn from watching veterans like Morales and Raul Ibañez take batting practice.
“You can’t help but be better when you watch these veteran guys take BP,” Wedge said. “It’s the way they go about their business each and every day. 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.’’
And if they don’t learn from seeing it, Morales is happy to discuss it.
“I’ve always been very approachable,’’ Morales said. “… 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.’’
Much is expected of Morales this season. The Mariners acquired him from the Los Angeles Angels to be the established, middle-of-the-order hitter they’ve lacked in recent years.
Last season, he hit .273 with 22 home runs and 73 RBI with a .320 on-base percentage and a .467 slugging percentage in 134 games.
It was his first full year of baseball after missing all of 2011 and over half of 2010 with an ankle fracture and dislocation that he suffered while celebrating a walk-off grand slam against the Mariners.
Last spring, he wasn’t able to participate fully in Cactus League games while he was recovering from the effects of the injury and two subsequent surgeries.
After the 2012 season, Morales finally had his first full offseason of conditioning and lifting since before the injury.
“My preparation started well before I got to spring training,” he said. “I’ve been able to lift weights now. Now just I’m sharpening my focus.”
Morales is hitting .368 (14-for-38) this spring with four homers and eight RBI.
“He’s been consistent all spring,” Wedge said.
With Morales batting in the third spot and Michael Morse batting behind him, the Mariners look significantly different. The threat of home runs is very real.
It was easy to see that something wasn’t completely right with Hisashi Iwakuma on Monday in the Mariners’ 6-5 win over Oakland at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
He wasn’t hurt and he was still getting outs. But it was the type of outs that Iwakuma was getting that hinted something was amiss.
Iwakuma is routinely a groundball pitcher, but the Athletics were hitting balls up in the air and making outs. Iwakuma got nine flyball outs and four ground ball outs. Usually, that ratio is reversed.
“My pitches were higher than I expected,” Iwakuma said through his translator, Daisuke Sekiba.
“Today it was dry and the ball was slippery. I was losing my grip.”
With his best pitch not so effective, Iwakuma found a way to give the Mariners five pretty good innings, allowing three runs on six hits to pick up the win.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” Wedge said. “He was up a little bit late, but he did (a good job) putting the ball on the ground when he needed to. He used all of his pitches. … He continues to be strong. It was another good day for Kuma.”
Iwakuma said the fifth inning – when he hit one batter, walked another and allowed a few hits –may have been a product of fatigue.
“I was a little tired at the end,” he said. “I could feel it.”
SPRING TRAINING RECAP
MARINERS 6, ATHLETICS 5 (at Phoenix Municipal Stadium)
The facts: The Mariners pushed their Cactus League winning streak to five games with a 6-5 win over division rival Oakland. Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma (2-0) picked up the win, pitching five innings and giving up three runs on six hits with two walks. The Mariners banged out nine hits with Michael Morse hitting his sixth homer of the season. That’s the 44th home run this spring for Seattle — most in the big leagues.
Play of the game: It wasn’t made by the Mariners. It was made by the Athletics’ Coco Crisp. The diminutive center fielder made a highlight-reel catch, scaling the wall in deep left-center field and robbing Jesus Montero of what looked to be a sure home run. Crisp nearly doubled off Justin Smoak, who was so certain the ball wouldn’t be caught that he was past second base when Crisp came down with the ball.
Who was hot: Dustin Ackley had a nice day, going 2-for-4 with two run-scoring singles. Ackley is still working to perfect the changes in his swing and is showing signs of success. He hit a hard ground ball up the middle in the sixth inning to score Smoak from second. In the eighth inning, Ackley pulled a ball down the line to score Morse.
Who was not: Casper Wells had an 0-for-4 day with three strikeouts. Wells is now 0-for-10 after missing five games with a stiff neck. Wells’ batting average has dropped to .200 (7-for-34) this spring. Much of his production came from back-to-back games where he went 5-for-9 with 9 RBI.
Quotable: “It was a great opportunity for him to pitch that ninth inning. He’s been very consistent all camp. He’s been very impressive. And he was again today.” — Manager Eric Wedge on reliever Carson Smith.
Extra innings: Smith has yet to allow a run this spring in six appearances and six innings pitched. … Smoak continues to hit well from the left side, scalding a single in the second inning and yanking a double down the line in the sixth inning. … Brad Miller continues to impress. He had a key two-run double to left-center for the Mariners.
On tap: The Mariners return to Peoria Stadium today to face the San Francisco Giants at 7:05 p.m. in the first of three night games in four days. Right-hander Brandon Maurer will start for the Mariners, with Tom Wilhelmsen, Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor also scheduled to pitch. The Giants will start left-hander Barry Zito. The game will be televised on Root Sports and broadcast on 710-AM.email@example.com 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish firstname.lastname@example.org