By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
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 of playing in Cuba where he first became a star, to when he first came to the United States as a coveted free agent defector, 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 it to his routine.
“I’ve played with a lot of veterans in Cuba and over here,” he said through 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 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. Morales isn’t just in the batting cage trying to hit home runs or taking as many cuts as possible. There is a focus, a purpose to every swing. Each pitch has a meaning and a required result. 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 believes his young players will learn from watching veterans like Morales and Raul Ibanez 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 more than happy to discuss it.
“I’ve always been very approachable,” Morales said. “I’ve had some players come up to me. There’s been great communication. And 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 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 .346 on-base percentage and a .528 slugging percentage in 134 games. It was his first full season after missing all of 2011 and over half of 2010 with a gruesome ankle fracture and dislocation that he suffered while celebrating a walk-off grand slam with the Angels against the Mariners.
Last spring, he wasn’t able to participate fully in Cactus League games as he was still recovering from the effects of the injury and two subsequent surgeries.
Morales finally had his first full offseason of conditioning and lifting following the 2012 season.
“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.”
The focus is pretty sharp. 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.
How much does it change it?
“Entirely,” Wedge said. “It’s not just those two guys, it’s the other veterans we have in here too.”