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Morales’ work ethic impresses Mariners


Slugger puts in serious time in batting practice

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 M’s 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.

“I’m working hard in the batting cage and things are starting to come about,” he 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 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.”

Giants’ Zito strikes out five Mariners in a row

San Francisco’s Barry Zito looked as if he was in regular-season form and Seattle pitcher Brandon Maurer stayed in contention for a rotation spot as the Mariners beat the Giants 6-3 Tuesday.

Zito struck out five straight over the first and second innings and gave up two runs and five hits in five innings. Zito struck out seven overall.

Maurer struck out four without walking a batter.