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Originally published June 5, 2011 at 7:49 PM | Page modified June 5, 2011 at 7:48 PM

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Steve Kelley

Greg Halman makes a season debut worth remembering

After breaking his left hand in April, Greg Halman goes 3 for 4 with two runs batted in and two runs scored in his 2011 Mariners debut.

Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes Even if it can be painful watching Peguero tied up on an inside fastball or fooled on a... Read more
quotes "For fans, isn't this more fun than watching Milton Bradley's clown act in left fi... Read more
quotes Milton who? Go M's! Read more

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Greg Halman played like he belonged, like the broken left hand he suffered in April that cost him 48 games in Triple-A Tacoma never happened. He played like the call-up he got on Thursday was exactly the right thing for the Mariners to do.

In his first real taste of what it's like to be in the bigs, starting in center field Sunday, in a meaningful game in June, Halman was as relaxed as a 10-year veteran.

Four at-bats, four balls on the barrel.

An opposite-field single in the third. A loud fly to the warning track in right. Another opposite-field hit, a triple into right-center that scored two and gave the Mariners a brief seventh-inning 5-3 lead. And a single to center in the eighth.

Less than two months after a plate and five screws were inserted into his broken hand, Halman was 3 for 4, with two runs batted in and two runs scored in his season debut.

"Greg was very under control up there," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said after Sunday's come-from-behind 9-6 win over Tampa Bay. "He has a lot of ability, a lot of power, a lot of explosiveness.

"You watch his BP and you look at his swings today and he was very disciplined, but he was ready to hit. It was great to see him come out there and perform the way he did today."

Maybe, just maybe, these kids are all right. Maybe, for the Mariners, the future is taking shape. Maybe 2012 is arriving in 2011.

Besides Halman's scorching season's debut, left fielder Carlos Peguero, 24, was 1 for 2 and scored two runs and first baseman Justin Smoak, 24, had a single in three at-bats. The trio was on base seven times.

Isn't this what this season is about? Shouldn't 2011 be an audition year for the Mariners, a chance to see who can make it and who can't?

For fans, isn't this more fun than watching Milton Bradley's clown act in left field, more fun than watching Casey Kotchman strike out, or Jose Lopez ho-hum an infield out?

"It's good to see young energy on the field," M's veteran second baseman Adam Kennedy said. "Sometimes the older guys struggle with that at times. To have that young energy is a big help."

Even if it can be painful watching Peguero tied up on an inside fastball or fooled on a changeup; even if power-hitting Smoak has his troubles adjusting to life in the three hole; even if rookie-of-the-year candidate starter Michael Pineda wobbles a bit on his second trip around the league, these are the players of the future.

Watching Halman playing ball on a Sunday afternoon was a treat. A day like this, from a kid like this, is what this summer with the Mariners can be.

"He has good eyes. He seems very mature for a young player," Wedge said of Halman. "I love the way he went out there and just contributed right away."

A September call-up last year, Halman played in nine games and hit .138. He admitted he was nervous. But Sunday, with the Mariners in second place in the American League West, 2 ½ games behind Texas, he played as if he were born for Safeco.

"How nervous I was last year compared to now was a very big difference," said the 23-year-old Halman. "It was undescribable how much pressure I felt last year. It's a lot more relaxed now.

"It's amazing your first game back in the big leagues and you know your team is going really good. It's real good to be a part of it and have a good game to start in my first game back. It was just amazing."

And there's more from where Halman, Pineda, Smoak and Peguero came.

The Mariners have won 15 of 20 and are turning this season into something worth watching. But the year should belong to the kids, players like Halman, who are itching to be part of a new beginning.

"When I first broke my hand I didn't want to believe it," Halman said. "Believe me, it's not fun breaking your hand in the fourth game of the season. You think 'Oh no, what does this mean for this year?'

"It was a very rough way to start the season, but I'm just happy I'm on the team now and happy I can contribute here and there. Growing up, the only thing you can think about is playing in the big leagues. But I have my confidence now and it's very nice, very nice to be up here. It's all good now."

It's all good, and maybe, just maybe, it will keep getting better.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.

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