Morales setting an example on the field and off

Morales setting an example on the field and off

PEORIA, Ariz. -- When the Mariners acquired Kendrys Morales from the Angels in December in exchange for Jason Vargas, they knew they were bringing in an experienced middle-of-the-order hitter who could be a force when he's fully healthy.

So far this spring, they've gotten all of that and more. Not only is the 29-year-old Cuban heating up at the plate -- batting .368, with two of his four home runs coming in the last two games -- he's setting an example with a work ethic that is rubbing off on his teammates, according to manager Eric Wedge.

Wedge calls Morales' batting-practice regimen "as professional as anybody we've got," saying that every swing has a purpose. Morales and fellow newcomers Raul Ibanez, Michael Morse and Jason Bay have set a tone from the start of camp, and the results have been impressive for a team that is leading all Major League clubs in home runs and slugging percentage this spring.

"I've said so many times, you can't help but be better when you watch these veteran guys take BP and go about their business every day," Wedge said. "It's what we talked about that we didn't have last year and we do have this year. It's only going to help those younger kids understand what it takes to be a successful big leaguer."

Morales said that he's hitting his stride this spring, his first with a completely healthy ankle since he shattered his left leg while jumping onto home plate in a walk-off celebration against the Mariners on May 29, 2010.

"I'm working hard in the batting cage, and things are starting to come about," Morales said on Monday through interpreter Rafael Colon. "I'm going about my business every day in the cage, working hard, and I'm having some success with that.

"My preparation started well before I got to Spring Training. Now I'm sharpening my focus to get ready. But my base started way before Spring Training. My ankle has obviously allowed me to come in much more prepared. I've been able to lift weights and have a mind-set ready to go from the beginning."

As for his focus in batting practice, Morales said that's something he's developed by watching older players before him.

"I've played with a lot of veterans, both in Cuba and over here," he said. "And what I've done is basically learned from them on what to do. So now my routine in BP is to stay up the middle, see the ball and hit the ball hard."

Morales hit .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBIs with the Angels in 2009 and was rapidly developing into one of the game's premier hitters when he was hurt two months into the 2010 season. If he can come close to approaching that sort of production now that he's healthy again, the Mariners will indeed have a middle-of-the-order presence.

Over the course of Morales' career with the Angels, the vast majority of his starts came while hitting fourth, fifth or sixth in the order. Wedge has slotted him in either third or fourth in the games he's played this spring, and clearly he's comfortable in that role.

"My experience in the big leagues has helped me gain confidence and enabled me to continue there in the middle of the lineup," Morales said. "And that's a responsibility I take seriously."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.