SEATTLE — Kendrys Morales doesn’t get as much home-run attention as some of his veteran teammates.
But perhaps no veteran has been quite as instrumental at carrying this Mariners offense at a time the team desperately needed a lift. Morales chipped in three more hits in a 9-0 rout of the San Diego Padres on Monday as the Mariners struck early and gave their starting pitcher the cushion needed to throw his game.
And that, starter Aaron Harang finally did, going the distance for his first shutout in four years as the Mariners won their second in a row.
“We haven’t been playing good lately,” Morales said, with bullpen coach Jamie Navarro doing the interpreting. “(Sunday) was a big game, coming back like that. I think that gave us the hope that we can play well. You feel confident that hopefully we can keep playing like this and keep it going.”
Morales had a first-inning double as the Mariners scored four runs off Padres starter Clayton Richard to pretty much lock things up in front of 18,942 fans at Safeco Field. Jason Bay hit a leadoff homer for the Mariners, followed by a three-run blast later that inning from Michael Morse.
Kelly Shoppach added a solo shot off Richard in the fourth inning. The Mariners scored four in the seventh off Anthony Bass, two of those on a single by Morales, who is batting .301 with an on-base-plus-slugging mark of .859.
That gave Harang all the room needed after a shaky first inning in which he had given up a leadoff double, then a drive to deep center caught at the wall by a twisting and turning Endy Chavez. Harang went on to allow just three more more hits, striking out eight.
“I’m sure he felt comfortable after we gave him some runs in that first inning,” Morales said. “We wanted to give him the opportunity to get the game going. That’s what we felt. We try to help the pitching. That’s what we’re here for and we’ll try to keep it going.”
Morales was considered one of the game’s rising elite hitters before breaking his leg celebrating a walkoff grand slam against the Mariners three years ago. Now, with an injury to Justin Smoak, Morales is back to playing his familiar first-base spot daily and his bat is again returning to that form of a few years ago.
“I’ve been working in the cages, grinding more and more,” he said. “I’m just trying to get better and help the team. I feel comfortable now and am where I want to be ... I just want to make more contact with the ball and help the team in the situation we’re at.”
Morales has six home runs, a bit more than half the 11 hit by Morse and three fewer than part-time outfielder Raul Ibanez. But Morales also leads the team in hits and total bases. His OPS and a .484 slugging mark is tops among everyday regulars.
The Mariners need to make up ground this week, playing the Padres — who saw Richard fall to 0-5 with an earned-run average of 8.35 — and the lowly Twins. Seattle is back to seven games below .500 and finally sees the bullpen getting some rest after the work by Hisashi Iwakuma on Sunday and now Harang.
“The guys have been swinging the bats great and putting runs on the board,” Harang said. “The starters, we kind of talked the other day and said, ‘We’ve got to pick this up.’ ‘Kuma went out and had a great game (Sunday). I kind of wanted to go out and try to follow suit. Hopefully we can just start feeding off each other.
“The offense is there. The guys made some good plays today for me. We’ve just got to keep everything going and stay on a roll.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge had been hoping for outings like these by his starters, with his bullpen stretched to the limit and struggling Brandon Maurer due to pitch Tuesday.
“It’s a veteran guy stepping up for us after pretty much using everybody (Sunday) and the way we’ve been working the bullpen,” Wedge said. “For ‘Kuma to give us eight innings (Sunday) and for Harang to go the whole way, that says a lot.”
It helped, of course, to have Morales and company wield the big lumber early and allow Harang enough room to stay aggressive.
“For me, it hasn’t been a matter of stuff as it has been being more aggressive and throwing his fastball when he needs to,” Wedge said. “When he does that, he’s a big guy and he leverages the ball downhill, then everything else works off that.”