Assuming Encarnacion's DH role, veteran hits RBI single, solo homer
By Paul Hagen
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When Kendrys Morales was introduced before the Blue Jays' Grapefruit League home opener Sunday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, he got a nice round of applause.
That was nothing compared to the response he got when he homered off Phillies reliever Joaquin Benoit to lead off the third inning in just his second at-bat in a Blue Jays uniform.
He drove in a run with an infield single in his first at-bat and later advanced from second to third on a fly ball to right.
"Morales doesn't run great, but he's a good, all-around baseball player," manager John Gibbons said after Toronto's 10-3 loss. "I think he's really going to help us. He's always been a producer, that's for sure."
Morales was signed as a free agent to be Toronto's designated hitter, batting in the fourth spot. He follows Edwin Encarnacion, who had 42 homers, 127 RBIs and an .886 OPS in that role for the Blue Jays last season before signing with the Indians as a free agent.
If the 33-year-old Morales had any butterflies, he wasn't letting on. After all, he has 10 seasons behind him with the Angels, Twins, Mariners and Royals. He's been there and done that.
"To be honest, I feel like it's normal to me," the switch-hitter said through a translator before heading off to get in some early morning time in the batting cage. "I just try to be prepared to make sure everything goes well."
Morales hit 30 homers and drove in 93 runs with a .795 OPS for Kansas City last season. The year before he got some American League MVP Award support. So the Blue Jays moved quickly to sign him to a three-year, $33 million deal shortly after Encarnacion declined their initial offer.
While his power numbers may not appear as robust as Encarnacion's, consider this: Morales hit 12 of his home runs last year at spacious Kauffman Stadium and 18 on the road. It's not a stretch to suggest that his total could rise this season when he plays half his games in more hitter-friendly Rogers Centre.
"When you're a free agent, you always want to go to a team that's a contender," Morales said. "The last couple years, this team has gone far into the playoffs. So when my agent talked to me about that, I was really excited. Because every time you played against the Blue Jays you could tell they were playing together, playing as a team. So for me, it was a no-brainer to accept their offer and decide to come play here."
Part of what made Toronto an attractive landing spot was the respect he had for the organization after watching from the opposite dugout for so many years.
"It was hard to play against the Blue Jays," he said. "Every time you played them you needed that extra edge to try to win. It's nice now that other teams are thinking that now of me, of my team. It's nice to be on this side."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.