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.”email@example.com 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish