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Morales joins Mariners, slots in at cleanup

Montero optioned back to Triple-A Tacoma to make room for veteran

Morales joins Mariners, slots in at cleanup

SEATTLE -- Designated hitter Kendrys Morales came full circle on Friday, returning to the Mariners team that he left last winter when he tried his luck on the free-agent market.

Morales acknowledged it was an odd circumstance that brought him back to Seattle after he'd signed with the Twins in early June after rejecting the Mariners' $14.1 million qualifying offer and then failing to find a home for the first two months of the season.

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Morales reported to the Mariners on Friday and was immediately put into the starting lineup in the cleanup spot for their game against the Orioles at Safeco Field. He went 0-for-3, driving in the team's only run with a sixth-inning sacrifice fly in a 2-1 loss in 10 innings.

"It caught me by surprise," Morales said of the trade that brought him back to the Mariners, "but I feel good to be back here and with the teammates I had a year ago.

"It feels good when the organization feels that way about you," he said of being pursued again by Seattle. "I felt really comfortable in my time last year with this team, and I'll be even more comfortable this year."

Speaking through translator Fernando Alcala, the 31-year-old Cuban said he wasn't second-guessing the choices that led to his eventually signing a prorated deal that will pay him about $7.4 million, with the Mariners now on the hook for about the final $4.5 million of that deal.

"I just made that decision last year to be a 100 percent free agent, and I don't feel bad about that decision," he said.

Morales was acquired from the Twins on Thursday in a trade for Minor League reliever Stephen Pryor. Manager Lloyd McClendon said Morales will play mostly DH as well as a little first base, while hitting behind Robinson Cano.

"I just want him to be a stabilizer, drive in runs, have good, productive at-bats," McClendon said. "And he's certainly capable of doing that. I can tell you this, he's not going to be overwhelmed by any situations. So he'll be a nice piece to have in our lineup."

Morales joins a team that entered Friday's play a half-game out of the American League's second Wild Card spot with 60 games remaining. He said it'll be good hitting behind Cano and fitting in with a club that has improved considerably since last year.

"It's mostly an experience thing," Morales said. "You've got some veteran players that have been there before. That's the biggest difference. That's helped us get where we are right now. It was a very sound decision by the organization to bring those veteran players in."

Morales' late start to the season led to some initial struggles with the Twins, and he brings a .234 batting average with one home run and 18 RBIs to a Seattle club that expects far more, based on his previous production. The switch-hitter led Seattle with a .277 average and 80 RBIs in 2013, while hitting 23 home runs.

Morales hit better the last two weeks in Minnesota, with a 12-game hitting streak snapped in his final game with the Twins. He said the last six weeks have essentially been like Spring Training for him after his long layoff.

"It definitely feels that way," he said. "I'm getting a lot of at-bats under my belt and playing better lately. I'm swinging with more authority."

Designated hitter Jesus Montero was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to make room for Morales on the 25-man roster.

Montero played Thursday after being recalled from Tacoma earlier in the day to fill in until Morales' arrival. He went 0-for-3 in the 4-0 loss to the Orioles and is batting .235 (4-for-17) with a home run and two RBIs in six games in two brief stints with Seattle this season.

The 24-year-old has hit .310 with 23 doubles, 15 home runs and 69 RBIs in 80 games with Tacoma, including a .420 average with seven home runs and 29 RBIs over his last 21 games.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.

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