BALTIMORE — The Seattle Mariners made it very clear last week. They like Kendrys Morales.
They like the way he hits. They like the way he fits in the middle of the order. They like his presence in the clubhouse.
And they would like to keep him in a Seattle uniform after this season.
General manager Jack Zduriencik told the media after the trade deadline Wednesday that he has had preliminary talks with Morales and his agent, Scott Boras, about his future with the team.
It’s why the Mariners didn’t trade him despite several inquiries.
“To me, our best option was to keep him here,” Zduriencik said Thursday on Sports Radio KJR. “We do have the qualifying offer that we are prepared to make. We are also trying to do something with Kendrys as we move forward.”
The qualifying offer means that the Mariners have the first right to sign Morales to a contract extension. If he chooses to go elsewhere, they would receive a compensatory draft pick in the first round of next year’s amateur draft.
But the Mariners would rather keep Morales.
Entering Saturday’s game, the 30-year-old designated hitter was batting .298 with 26 doubles, 17 homers and 63 RBI. He has a team-high .353 on-base percentage to go with a .488 slugging percentage.
He has been everything the Mariners wanted when they acquired him from the Los Angeles Angels for pitcher Jason Vargas in December.
Lately, Morales has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball.
On Thursday and Friday, he had back-to-back four-hit games, just the second Mariners player to accomplish that feat. Ichiro Suzuki did it three times, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
In the first four games of this trip, Morales had 13 hits in 17 at-bats.
“I’m trying to be aggressive on the first pitch,” Morales said Saturday through bullpen coach and interpreter Jaime Navarro. “If they throw them for strikes, I’m going to go after them. That’s the best thing I’ve been doing. Right now I feel comfortable doing that, and it’s working for me.”
In his previous 12 games, he was hitting .449 (22-for-49) with four doubles, three homers and nine RBI.
“He’s been pretty steady all season long,” acting manager Robby Thompson said of Morales. “This is probably the best he’s been. The guy has ice in his veins. He’s as even-keeled a player as I’ve ever been around.”
Morales is keeping that attitude when it comes to his future.
“I haven’t thought about it,” he said. “I’m not worrying about that. I’m worried about finishing strong, and after that, we’ll talk about it.”
That’s not to say he’s opposed to staying with the organization.
“I feel comfortable here,” he said. “I like what I see. We have a young team, and I like it a lot. But that’s something they need to work on, a decision from the office, and I’m not going to worry about it and just keep helping the team.”
ACKLEY SITS ON EDGE
Dustin Ackley was on the bench for the second consecutive day Saturday.
With essentially four starting outfielders, Thompson is trying to find at-bats and playing time for them all. It appears Ackley could be the odd man out more often than not when it comes to playing time.
“When you talk about the guys we throw out in the corner spots, for me and us as a staff, you throw out your best center fielder out there to cover as much ground as possible,” Thompson said. “Ack is kind of in transition from the infield to the outfield. We want to get him in left field, too. I talked with him, he understands. I wanted to let him know, ‘Hey, you aren’t going to be forgotten. You are going to play.’ And he said, ‘Hey, I get it. I get it.’ We’ll mix and match these things.”
In a normal situation, Ackley would be sent to Triple-A Tacoma to keep playing. There’s a good chance he still would be in Tacoma learning the position and playing every day if not for the ultra-fragile Franklin Gutierrez.
Michael Morse and Raul Ibañez aren’t a part of the future, and they’re still playing. But the Mariners also are trying to win.
Ackley has been serviceable in the outfield, but he shows a hesitancy that stems from a lack of experience.
Meanwhile, Ackley has never had a strong arm. It’s one of the reasons the Mariners converted him to second base after drafting him in 2009.
“He’s been playing a lot of long toss trying to strengthen it,” Thompson said. “But sometimes you can only get so much out of that. Sometimes an arm is what an arm is. What he needs to work on is trying to stop a runner from advancing with his legs, meaning come in and get the ball as hard as he possibly can. Charge that thing and have that third base coach think he’s getting to the ball quickly. You see Coco Crisp does that very well, but Coco’s been out there a number of years. His arm is a little short out there, but there’s ways he can make it better.”
The Mariners wrap up the three-game series against Baltimore with a 10:35 a.m. game Sunday. Left-hander Joe Saunders (9-10, 4.65 ERA) will start for Seattle, while the Orioles will go with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (6-3, 2.87). The game will be broadcast on Root Sports, 1030-AM and 710-AM.email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish