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Originally published July 25, 2014 at 7:59 PM | Page modified July 28, 2014 at 11:57 AM

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New Mariner Kendrys Morales gets a hearty welcome from his new manager

Lloyd McClendon welcomes slugger with a choice cigar, and a start in the cleanup spot

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Kendrys Morales received his first gift from manager Lloyd McClendon before he even took an at-bat for him.

Before the game Friday, Morales, who loves cigars, was given a cigar from McClendon’s personal humidor.

“It was one of my good ones,” McClendon said.

If Morales can hit like he did last season for the Mariners, there might be some more cigars in his future — victory cigars.

Morales was acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Twins on Thursday and he arrived in Seattle on Friday. He was promptly placed in the cleanup spot as the designated hitter.

“I just want him to be a stabilizer and drive in runs and have good at-bats, productive at-bats,” McClendon said. “I can tell you this, he won’t be overwhelmed by any situation. He’ll be a nice piece to have in our lineup.”

Morales was a little stunned to be back in Seattle. He turned down multiple offers from the Mariners in the offseason, opting to become a free agent. But the market for him never materialized. He ended up waiting until after the June draft to sign a one-year contract with the Twins.

With the Twins’ season sinking, he was dealt back to Seattle — a team he hit .277 for with 34 doubles, 23 home runs and 80 RBI last season — in exchange for reliever Stephen Pryor.

“It caught me by surprise,” Morales said through team translator Fernando Alcala. “But it feels good to be back here and be with the team I was with a year ago.”

Morales’ numbers this season aren’t quite as outstanding.

He’s hitting .234 (36 for 154) with 11 doubles, a homer and 18 RBI in 39 games. But the Mariners and Morales said the lack of spring training and missing the first few months of the season have hurt him. They view his time with Minnesota as his belated spring training.

“It definitely feels that way,” Morales said. “I’m getting a lot of at-bats under my belt now. I’ve been playing better lately and swinging the bat with more authority.”

Morales had a 12-game hitting streak that ended Wednesday.

“My focus is on helping this team qualify for the playoffs,” he said.

A year ago, he was one of a handful of veterans on a team with mostly inexperienced players. It’s different now with the addition of Robinson Cano and others. It’s something he noticed right away.

“It’s mostly experience,” he said. “You have veteran players that have been there before. That’s the biggest difference. That has helped us get where we are right now.”

As for passing up a three-year, $30 million extension with the Mariners and later the one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer to become a free agent, Morales didn’t seem regretful. He will make roughly $7 million this season with the Mariners paying just more than $4 million of it.

“I made that decision to be a 100 percent free agent,” he said. “I don’t feel bad about the decision.”

NOTES

• With Morales likely to bat fourth behind Cano, McClendon said he’s playing with the idea of batting Kyle Seager at No. 2 in the order in hopes of taking advantage of extra fastballs with Cano batting behind him. “It’s something I’ve been considering,” he said.

• Outfielder Michael Saunders (strained oblique) was able to start taking swings Friday. It’s a significant step in his recovery.

• After his debut Thursday, rookie shortstop Chris Taylor was out of the lineup. Brad Miller got the start. McClendon said he won’t use the players in a straight platoon. “I will look at matchups and see who best fits that particular day and put them in there,” he said.

Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or rdivish@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @RyanDivish

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