MINNEAPOLIS -- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has tried 10 different players in the leadoff role this season, searching for a spark at the top of the lineup in front of his middle-of-the-order threats: Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano.
Not many of the candidates really looked like a true leadoff threat, until the arrival of rookie Ketel Marte, who got on base four times in Sunday's 4-1 victory over the Twins and wound up scoring the go-ahead run in the 11th inning.
Marte was 3-for-4 with two infield singles. And in the 11th, he led off with a walk, hustled into second on a wild pitch that just bounced far enough in front of catcher Kurt Suzuki to create an opening, then scored on Logan Morrison's double to right-center.
"The young man showed what he could do today, not only at the plate, but on the bases," McClendon said. "One of the things we worked on hard in Spring Training was balls in the dirt. And he ended up going to second and put a lot of pressure on them and ended up scoring the winning run. That's big for us if he can do those type of things."
Marte, 21, was playing just his third Major League game since being called up from Triple-A Tacoma on Friday. As the No. 2-ranked Mariners prospect by MLBPipeline.com, he comes with some expectations. And the early impression has been positive as he's now 4-for-12 with two walks and two runs scored while also flashing some skills at second base.
McClendon will soon face the question of where to play Marte as he's filled in so far for Cano while the six-time All-Star has been recovering from a strained abdominal muscle. Cano played designated hitter the past two games, but with an Interleague series at Colorado beginning Monday, there's no DH available.
Is he ready to displace Cano?
"I don't know about that," Marte said with a smile. "I think I'm going to play center field tomorrow, but I don't know."
Cano went 1-for-4 on Sunday, but McClendon pinch-ran for him after his ninth-inning single as his abdominal muscle still hurts when he runs.
"Robbie is gutting it out," McClendon said. "We'll revisit it tomorrow and see where we are."
Cano insists he's ready to go.
"Even on one leg if I have to," he said.
But you get the sense McClendon is going to find a way to keep Marte atop his lineup, one way or the other. He played a handful of games in center field in Tacoma shortly before his callup and can also play shortstop.
"When you have a speedy guy that is a natural basestealer and is a switch-hitter on top of that, it just makes sense to give him every opportunity to lead off for you," McClendon said.