KANSAS CITY, Mo. – One swing of his bat and Kendrys Morales reminded folks still watching his Mariners why the team wants to bring him back next season.
There are counter-arguments, like his non-existent baserunning, inability to field a position full-time and a pricetag that will climb to eight figures per annum. But Morales on Wednesday flicked his wrists and launched an Aaron Crow offering some 414 feet over the center-field wall, delivering a 6-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals these floundering Mariners needed.
Few current Mariners have the type of elite, game-changing ability to hit a two-strike, 97 mph fastball as far as Morales just did with the game on the line. And that’s why a Mariners team that has struggled to drive in runs all season is reluctant to part with one of the few dependable, middle-of-the-order bats they have.
“You have to open up your zone with two strikes,’’ Morales said of his mindset awaiting the 1-2 offering, with teammate Raul Ibanez interpreting. “He tried to throw a pitch away but he left a pitch out over the plate and I hit it.’’
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The Mariners had stranded eight more baserunners up to that point. Kansas City had used a four-run fourth inning off Taijuan Walker to erase a 4-0 deficit and it seemed Seattle might not score again the way it kept leaving runners in scoring position from the middle innings on.
But then Franklin Gutierrez worked a tough, two-out walk and Morales hit his first home run in over a month. That helped left-handed relief pitcher Lucas Luetge pick up his first win of the season after he threw two scoreless frames and Danny Farquhar closed out the ninth.
Morales looked like a hot commodity at the July 31 trade deadline, but had been in a tailspin since. He hit his previous home run on Aug. 2 and since then had posted a .200 batting average and on-base-plus slugging percentage of just .508 heading into this one.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge has lamented the lack of veteran production being generated by the middle of the order. Much of that was directed at the since-traded Michael Morse, but the team clearly missed what Morales had done earlier.
Morales admitted he hasn’t felt productive in a while at the plate.
“I was trying to produce but I wasn’t able to,’’ Morales said.
Before Tuesday’s game, he and hitting coach Dave Hansen watched video of his early season at-bats to try to spot any differences with his current approach. They found a few things and went into the batting cages to correct them.
“We went and watched some video and then we went to try to perfect and get to the place I was a few months back,’’ Morales said.
Morales insisted he isn’t feeling pressure of carrying the load with many of the team’s bats struggling in the clutch. The Mariners are 3 for 40 with runners in scoring position on this trip.
And those struggles are why the Mariners are so interested in keeping Morales, despite numbers knocked down by his month-long slump. He’s still hitting .279 with 18 home runs, 71 runs batted in and an OPS of .780, though they don’t automatically cry out for the multi-year deal worth $15 million or $20 million annually that his agent, Scott Boras, is thought to be seeking.
The Mariners could make Morales a qualifying offer that would pay him about $14 million for 2014 alone.
They seemed ready to cruise in this one, smacking around Royals starter Ervin Santana for a 4-0 lead by the fourth. But Walker started getting his pitches up too high in the bottom of the inning and some hard ground balls found the right holes as the Royals tied it.
“The fourth inning I just kind of got out of my groove, left the ball up, got behind in the count,’’ said Walker, who’d retired 13 of 13 batters to start the game.
Walker did toss a perfect fifth inning before being pulled on 79 pitches.
“I was a little shocked that I was going back out,” Walker said. “Because they’re minding my innings and it was a close game. But I’m glad they sent me back out and I got to go out there and have a clean inning.”