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MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Morales just what Seattle's offense needs right now

Morales just what Seattle's offense needs right now

In Anaheim over the weekend, where the Mariners and Angels staged a three-game series worthy of October, Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon outlined the qualities that have made his team a surprise contender in the stacked American League West.

"We've pitched extremely well and caught the ball," McClendon said after the Halos staged a ninth-inning comeback to take the finale and series. "I'm extremely proud of how we've gone about our business."

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What McClendon didn't do was state the obvious: Seattle is in dire need of offense to release some of the pressure from its superb pitching staff and quality defense. The Mariners have scored exactly 100 fewer runs (396) than the A's and Angels, co-leaders in the Major Leagues.

Walk right in, Kendrys Morales, and make yourself at home in a clubhouse that will welcome you like a cool breeze on a late July afternoon.

Morales, acquired by Seattle on Thursday from the Twins in exchange for right-hander Stephen Pryor, is the kind of weapon that is capable of turning one-run losses into victories with one swing.

The Mariners need no introduction to the 31-year-old slugger from Cuba. Morales was part of their cast last season, and he would have been back this year if he had accepted Seattle's one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer before turning to free agency and landing in Minnesota in June.

Morales, who plays first base capably and can serve as a designated hitter, is a proven hitter from both sides of the plate. He has done most of his damage from the left side throughout his career, but that's not unusual of switch-hitters who see many more righties than lefties.

Critical to Morales' addition is that he is not intimidated by Safeco Field's daunting history for hitters. He also is highly familiar with the AL West, going back to his days with the Halos, for whom he emerged in 2009 as a lethal force for manager Mike Scioscia and Co. with his 34 homers, 108 RBIs and .306 batting average.

If not for his fateful fall at home plate celebrating a walk-off grand slam on May 29, 2010, against the Mariners at Angel Stadium, Morales might still be a fixture in Anaheim. He hasn't been quite the same force since suffering lower left leg fractures that afternoon, but he's still a hitter to be feared.

With the Mariners last season, Morales made it to the post for 156 games, putting together a .277/.336/.449 line in producing 23 homers and 80 RBIs. Most impressive was the fact that his numbers in Seattle -- where hitters have struggled historically with self-esteem -- were even better than on the road.

Morales had a .282/.339/.472 slash line at Safeco last season, unloading 12 of his 23 homers in front of the home folks. Those dimensions and that marine layer didn't seem to bother Morales.

How encouraging are those numbers? The Mariners' .236 team batting average and .367 slugging mark at home this season are both the second worst in the AL.

Justin Smoak, the former first baseman, was batting .152 and slugging .295 in 112 at-bats at home before being sent to Triple-A Tacoma this week. New acquisitions Corey Hart (.214/.310) and Logan Morrison (.202/.369) also have struggled to find hits at Safeco. Smoak (.208 batting average), Morrison (.211) and Hart (.212) are in the midst of unproductive seasons overall.

A man who endures 12 unsuccessful boating efforts to reach the land of Major League Baseball from his native Cuba, as Morales did, isn't easily disturbed by late-game pressures. His history underscores how he relishes the big moments.

With runners in scoring position last season for the Mariners, Morales batted .312 with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .866 in 159 plate appearances. For his career, in the equivalent of a full season, Morales hits .287 with a .857 OPS in 688 assignments with men in scoring position.

When you're starving for runs, as the Mariners have been, this is the kind of hitter who can satisfy your appetite.

Certainly the front-running A's and high-flying Angels are well aware of what Morales can do for the third-place Mariners providing lineup support and protection for Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.

"Kendrys is a hitter who can hurt you in so many ways," Halos second baseman Howie Kendrick said. "He has a presence at the plate that changes the way they approach you as a team."

Getting a late start with the Twins, making his season debut on June 9 as a late arrival via free agency, Morales is not close to his normal standards with a .234/.259/.325 line. But he recently found his groove with a 12-game hitting streak putting him in more familiar territory statistically: .292/.314/.417.

"He's one of the best hitters in the game," said the Mets' Bobby Abreu, who mentored Morales when they were Angels teammates. "He plays hard every day. He's a good teammate, a team player. He's got good hands and a strong arm, and he has become a very good first baseman. And he's a good guy, popular with everybody. He's a fun guy. Everybody likes Kendrys."

Morales starred for the Cuban national team before successfully defecting on a boat in 2004 on his 13th attempt, signing a six-year deal with the Halos that expired after the 2010 season.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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