Sports

John McGrath: Despite early struggles, Morales is going to be fine

In case you missed the Mariners game Sunday, here is all you need to know about their 3-2, 10-inning defeat to the Baltimore Orioles:

Dustin Ackley twice was on base with one out and Kendrys Morales at the plate — in the third and seventh innings — and twice Ackley was stranded.

The seventh-inning breakdown was especially frustrating. After Orioles’ left-handed reliever Brian Matusz had pitched around Robinson Cano, the switch-hitting Morales changed to the right side and hacked at the first pitch he saw, popping up to first.

Morales wasn’t the only reason the Mariners dropped their fifth series of the month. Leadoff man James Jones went 0-for-5, finishing the homestand at 2-for-27, with nine strikeouts. Kyle Seager began the second inning with a line drive single, only to be thrown out attempting to stretch the hit into a double. It was the second time in two days the Mariners cost themselves at least one run on the base paths.

And first baseman Logan Morrison, facing Matusz in a lefty-versus-lefty match up predisposed for failure, ended his 0-for-4 afternoon — and the game — by taking a swing ugly enough to induce grimacing.

But the collective salaries of Jones, Seager and Morrison represent significantly less than the $4.3-million Morales will get from the Mariners, who acquired the designated hitter last week in a trade for reliever Stephen Pryor.

Beyond the money issue, Morales was tabbed to be the cleanup hitter who’d give the heart of the lineup a right-handed threat against left-handed pitching. This is the same guy, don’t forget, who led the 2013 Mariners in batting average, hits, total bases, doubles and RBI.

Since relocating from Minnesota, Morales is 1-for-10, looking like somebody still whose bat bag was lost on the flight to Seattle.

I asked manager Lloyd McClendon if he got the sense Morales is pressing.

“Probably a little bit,” McClendon said. “That’s only natural. He’s on a new club, although this was his club last year. But you want to do good coming in. The thing I told (him) is, just relax and let the game come to you. Don’t try to force the issue.

“Kendrys is gonna be just fine. Anybody who wants to judge his season on three games in a Mariners uniform, that would be kind of dumb.”

Agreed, it would be dumb — almost as dumb as Morales was for listening to the advice of agent Scott Boras and rejecting two offers from the Mariners to return in 2014. Almost as dumb as holding out for half the season. Almost as dumb as rejecting a minor-league tune up before trying to hit the ground running in Minnesota.

It’s been a shipwreck season for Morales. The Twins signed him because they thought they had an outside shot at a wild card berth, but it soon became obvious playoff aspirations were unreasonable. About 20 minutes after Morales was obtained by Minnesota, the Twins front office had a serious case of buyer’s remorse.

In 39 games with the Twins, Morales hit .234 with 11 doubles and a home run. And while he appeared to be warming up before they unloaded him, there’s no assurance he’ll return to last year’s form any time soon.

Which brings me to the deadline for teams to make non-waiver trades, scheduled to expire Thursday. When Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik reacquired Morales, it was seen as less a blockbuster move than a pawn proceeding one square on the chess board.

Morales occupied an immediate void — a switch-hitting bat splitting up Cano and Seager, both lefties, in the lineup — but there had to be more, didn’t there?

The clock is ticking. There isn’t more, and there may not be more. With a record that fell to 54-51 on Sunday, the Mariners might be prudent to resist a drastic trade that would cost them top farm-system talent for a so-so bat and the pricey contract coming with it.

Then again, fans don’t want to hear about prudence. Heck, I don’t want to hear about prudence, either. A wild card berth still is there for the taking, and remember: The Mariners came within an extra inning of winning a road series against the playoff-bound Angels last week, and an extra inning of splitting a home series against the Orioles, the best team in the A.L. East.

It would have been so much easier if Kendrys Morales had shown up ready to rake in Safeco Field the other night. But he’s not ready, and the trade deadline is approaching, and if any of this is fraying your nerves, all I tell you is what McClendon told me.

“Kendrys,” he said, “is gonna be just fine.”

Got it.

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