SEATTLE — Did Kendrys Morales’ return to the Mariners make you go, “What?” He knows how you feel.
“It caught me by surprise,” Morales admitted prior to batting cleanup Friday as the Mariners’ designated hitter against the Baltimore Orioles at Safeco Field.
“But I feel good to be back here and be with the teammates I had a year ago…It sort of came together quickly. It’s just a surprise, but I’m glad to be here.”
The Mariners reacquired Morales, 31, in a Thursday trade from Minnesota for minor-league reliever Stephen Pryor. The move came after numerous failed attempts last year to prevent Morales from becoming a free agent.
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Those efforts included the Mariners extending a qualifying offer of $14.1 million after the season, which meant any club that signed Morales would also be required to surrender a high draft choice as compensation.
That qualifying offer hampered Morales’ effort to get what he considered an acceptable deal on the free-agent market. That compensation provision no longer applied after the June draft.
Not coincidentally, Morales reached an agreement shortly thereafter with the Twins for roughly $7.4 million through the end of the season. The trade puts the Mariners on the hook for about $4.33 million.
Morales will be an unencumbered free agent after the season because the rules prohibit the Mariners from making a qualifying effort under his current circumstances.
For his part, Morales has no regrets in how his situation unfolded.
“I made the decision last year to be a 100-percent free agent,” he insisted. “I don’t feel bad about the decision.”
For now, though, Morales says his goal is “to focus on what’s ahead and helping this new team win and qualify for the playoffs.”
Morales batted .234 in 39 games with the Twins with 11 doubles, one homer and 18 RBIs. His on-base percentage was just .259, while his slugging percentage was .325.
The Mariners are hoping Morales’ six-plus weeks in Minnesota effectively served as a spring training, and that his production will approach his career norms over the season’s final 10 weeks.
“I just want him to be a stabilizer, drive in runs and have good at-bats,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Productive at-bats. He’s certainly capable of doing that.
“I can tell you this, he’s not going to be overwhelmed by any situation. He’ll be a nice piece to add to our lineup.”
Morales also believes he’s ready to break out.
“It definitely feels that way,” he said. “I’m getting a lot of at-bats under my belt, and I’ve been playing better lately and swinging the bat with a little more authority.”
Montero to Tacoma
First baseman Jesus Montero was optioned back to Triple-A Tacoma in a corresponding roster move to accommodate Morales’ arrival from the Twins.
Montero was hitless in three at-bats Thursday after being recalled earlier in the day to serve, effectively, as a space-holder for Morales.
Shortstop Brad Miller returned to the lineup Friday when the Mariners faced a right-hander in Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman. That put Chris Taylor on the bench after going 1-for-3 on Thursday in his big-league debut.
McClendon said the two will continue to share duty at short while serving as backups to second baseman Robinson Cano and third baseman Kyle Seager while utilityman Willie Bloomquist recovers from a bruised knee.
But McClendon says Miller and Taylor won’t be a strict left/right platoon.
“I’ll look at match-ups,” McClendon said, “and see who best fits that particular night and put them in there.”
Seager dropped from fourth to fifth in the lineup when McClendon opted to insert Morales as the cleanup hitter behind Cano. Seager might also see time as the No. 2 hitter in future games.
“I’ve played with the idea of Seager hitting second,” McClendon acknowledged, “because he’s such a good fastball hitter. That is definitely a possibility.”
What won’t happen is Cano shifting to No. 2. McClendon dismisses a growing belief among some in the game that a lineup’s best hitter should bat second.
“I think three hole is the best place for your (best) hitter,” McClendon said. “Hopefully, you’ve got two guys in front of him who are capable of getting on base.
“Hopefully, a lot of times, he’s coming up when (runners are on) s first and second or first and third.”
Felix Hernandez entered Friday’s game with 999 1/3 career innings at Safeco Field. The only active pitcher with more innings at one ballpark is Toronto lefty Mark Buehrle, who has 1,306 2/3 innings at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. Buehrle pitched 12 seasons for the White Sox…James Jones got his 20th steal in Thursday’s loss. He is the fourth rookie in club history with 20 steals. The others are Ichiro Suzuki (56 in 2001), Phil Bradley (21 in 1984) and Donell Nixon (21 in 1987)…The Mariners suffered their 12th shutout in Thursday’s 4-0 loss to the Orioles. That matches Tampa Bay for the most shutouts among American League teams.
Hi-A High Desert outfielder Gabby Guerrero was picked as Baseball America’s Prospect Hitter of the Day for Thursday after going 3-for-4 with two homers in a 10-8 victory at Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers).
Guerrero, 20, recently played in the All-Star Futures Game. He is batting 19-for-44 (.432) in his last 10 games and is batting .312 overall with 12 homers and 69 RBIs in 95 games.
It was 34 years ago Saturday — July 26, 1980 — that Mariners struck for three runs in the second inning at Toronto and snapped Dave Stieb’s streak of 23 consecutive innings.
Stieb’s streak ended when Julio Cruz drew a two-out walk with the bases loaded. The Mariners went on to win 7-2 in the first game of a doubleheader at Exhibition Stadium. Toronto then gained a split with a 7-5 victory.
Worth noting: The opener was played in 2 hours, 16 minutes; the second game in 2:20.
The Mariners and Orioles continue their four-game weekend series at 1:10 p.m. Saturday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Chris Young (8-6 with a 3.22 ERA) will face Baltimore righty Bud Norris (8-6, 3.78).
Root Sports will broadcast the game.
The series concludes at 1:10 p.m. Sunday. The Mariners have an open date Monday before departing on a six-game trip to Cleveland and Baltimore.