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Morales ready to give boost to Mariners offense

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PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) - Kendrys Morales is ready for a fresh start.

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In 2009, he batted .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBIs. Five years after his arrival to the U.S. from Cuba via the Dominican Republic, Morales was thriving.

By May 29, 2010, he was one of the top hitters for the Los Angeles Angels in just his second full year in the majors.

That day in May, Morales hit a game-winning grand slam to beat the Mariners in the 10th inning at Angels Stadium.

He jogged around the bases toward a celebrating crowd of teammates and jumped on home plate, landing awkwardly and breaking his leg.

That ended Morales' season and forced him to miss all of 2011 as well. Morales returned to the Angels in 2012 and batted .273 with 22 home runs and 73 RBIs.

Then on Dec. 19, he was traded to Seattle for pitcher Jason Vargas.

Morales was asked if it was strange to join the team he got hurt playing against.

``No, they gave me an opportunity,'' he said. ``They've received me really well. I just want to do what I was doing before I got hurt.''

After two-plus years of rehabilitation, the ankle feels better and stronger, Morales said.

He took part in running drills after batting practice Saturday during the Mariners' first full workout of spring training and didn't appear to be affected. He also took ground balls at first base though he figures to be the regular designated hitter.

``It was hard and rehab took a long time and was a tough task, but I've got my ability to run back,'' he said. ``Compared to last year at this time, I feel 100 percent. My ankle is able to take anything I do on the field.

``It's a radical change because I couldn't do things and run at 100 percent or anything. I couldn't exercise with much strength.''

Morales' job will be to hit in the middle of the Mariners lineup. To help provide a boost to an offense that was last in the American League in runs scored, hits and team batting average in 2012.

He hopes to thrive in spacious Safeco Field, where he can hit balls to all fields. He said he likes how open the stadium is for hitters.

``They moved in the fence and we have a lot of guys with a lot of power here, so that's better for us,'' Morales said.

One of the first things he noticed when arriving to spring training was the number of young players in the clubhouse.

``There's good energy because there are so many young guys,'' Morales said. ``You've seen teams with a lot of youth play with more passion and energy, and with that we can play faster.''

Morales knows a few of the other Mariners well. He appeared in a video game commercial with pitcher Felix Hernandez in 2009 and said he feels Hernandez is the best pitcher in the majors.

There is also starting pitcher Joe Saunders, a former teammate of Morales with the Angels. Saunders said he expects to see the Morales of a few years ago.

``A lot of home runs, a lot of doubles, probably no triples and a lot of RBIs,'' Saunders said. ``I'm sure that's what he expects out of himself. I just remember him having some really good power to both parts of the field. I started the game when he got hurt, so it's kind of surreal that now we're both on this team.''

Saunders said the Angels missed Morales after the injury.

``It was a shame to see it, because he was on fire before he got hurt. I think he can come up here and provide a really good punch to this lineup for sure.''

Manager Eric Wedge said Morales can be effective because he's a switch hitter with power who is a run producer and is comfortable being in the middle of the lineup.

``He has a lot of experience and he's somebody that we're counting on being in the middle of our lineup,'' Wedge said. ``It's a good time for him, it's a good spot for him.''

Notes: All players except catcher Ronny Paulino were present for the first full-team workout Saturday. Paulino is in the Dominican Republic sorting out visa issues. ... A packed and noisy clubhouse got even louder when new outfielder Michael Morse took over the stereo and cranked up dance music before the workout, something new at spring training this year. ... The Mariners announced Saturday that they've agreed to one-year contracts with LHP Bobby LaFromboise and INF Carlos Triunfel, who are both at spring training.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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