Kendrys Morales, who hit 34 home runs in 2009 and was on his way to another big season with the Angels in 2010 before breaking his ankle, finally had a healthy offseason.
PHOENIX — For a guy supposed to be a lineup presence, Kendrys Morales sure seemed quiet until hitting a pair of home runs the past few days.
That is, unless you happened to be hanging around the Mariners’ batting cages between games, where Morales, 29, has managed to make others very much aware of him. The Mariners have not had legitimate middle-of-the-order veterans in their lineup for several years and the impact of Morales — a switch-hitter who hit 34 home runs in 2009 — is being felt outside the actual games.
And for Morales, in his first healthy spring training since breaking his ankle three years ago, it’s all about getting a feel in the cages so he can carry it out onto the field.
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“I’m working hard in the batting cage and things are starting to come about,” Morales said, using minor-league coach Rafael Colon as a translator. “I go about my business in the batting cage every day, working hard, and I’m having some success with that.”
Morales has drawn kudos from Mariners manager Eric Wedge for his focus and work habits during batting practice. It’s the only way Morales says he knows how to do it, having learned to focus that way as a member of the Cuban national team and later the Los Angeles Angels, starting in 2006.
“I’ve played with a lot of veterans, both in Cuba and over here,” he said. “I basically learned from them what I have to do. So now, my routine in BP is to stay up the middle, see the ball and hit the ball hard. It’s been the presence of a lot of veterans that’s helped me. Watching from them and learning from them.”
But it’s the intensity with which he does it that has Wedge and others raving. Not all players take batting practice with equal degrees of seriousness, but Wedge said Morales tries to have a “professional at-bat” every time he stands in there.
“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.”
Morales was on his way to doing just that with the Angels before breaking his ankle during a celebration at the plate against the Mariners in May 2010. He’d just hit a walkoff grand slam and leaped in the air as he reached teammates at the plate — landing awkwardly and ending his season.
The year before that, Morales, in addition to his 34 homers, had an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .924 in his breakout season as an elite player. At the time of his injury, he had 11 homers in only 193 at-bats and an OPS of .833.
It has been a long, slow road back. He missed the rest of the 2010 season, all of 2011 and took a while to get back into things last season. But he still finished with 22 homers and a .787 OPS in 484 at-bats. He says this is the first time he’s had an entire healthy winter since the injury to prepare for a season.
“My ankle has obviously allowed me to come in much more prepared,” Morales said. “I was able to lift weights and have a mindset where I can go from the beginning.”
And Morales says he has, even though the Mariners eased him slowly into Cactus League games. As camp has worn on, he’s appeared more regularly, belting his first homer while batting left-handed Sunday against the Texas Rangers.
The day before, he’d gone deep batting right-handed against the Colorado Rockies and has four long balls this spring. His six hits the past four games have lifted his spring average to .368.
His number of batting practice admirers also keeps going up.
“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.”