Kendry Morales is becoming dangerous from both sides of the plate
Kendry Morales had a breakout 2009 season, batting .306 with 34 home runs and 108 runs batted in, and on Sunday he was at the end of a torrid six-game stretch in which he hit .591 (13 for 22) with three homers and 10 runs batted in to raise his average from .216 to .329 and gain American League player-of-the-week honors Monday.
But Barry Bonds he is not, so Morales was shocked when New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, with runners on first and second and two outs in the seventh inning of a one-run game Sunday, ordered left-handed reliever Damaso Marte to intentionally walk Morales, a switch-hitter who was batting from the right side.
Girardi then changed his mind after the first wide pitch, ordering Marte to go after Morales, who belted a 3-and-0 pitch over the wall in left-center field to break open the close game and help the Angels to an 8-4 victory.
"I don't have enough years in this league for someone to walk me with a man on first base," Morales said through an interpreter on Monday. "So, I was quite surprised. But I was glad they ended up pitching to me."
Girardi said after the game that he "screwed up," that he "wanted to walk him. That was my first instinct." That the manager even considered walking Morales is an indication of the progress the Cuban first baseman has made hitting from the right -- his weaker -- side.
For the first month or so of 2009, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia would start the right-handed Robb Quinlan at first over Morales, but it soon became evident that "this guy was not a platoon player," the manager said of Morales.
Morales went on to hit .296 with four homers and 24 RBIs in 135 at-bats as a right-handed hitter and .309 with 30 homers and 84 RBIs in 431 at-bats as a left-handed hitter. This season, Morales is hitting .286 with two homers and five RBIs in 28 at-bats from the right side and .356 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 45 at-bats from the left side.
"He has a good swing from both sides of the plate," Scioscia said. "He faced good pitching in Cuba and better pitching in the minor leagues. Any flaws in your swing are going to be exposed in a triple A and major league environment. He's had to make some adjustments in understanding his swing, what pitches he can handle, and what pitchers are trying to do to get him out."
Morales also dug into his past for some help this past winter, enlisting one of his former Cuban national team coaches, Miguel Valdez, to work with him in Miami, where Morales hit six days a week, taking only Sundays off.
"He filmed my swing from the right side and saw a couple of things, and right from there we decided to do a couple of things," Morales said. "But I didn't face any left-handed pitchers."
He could have. Aroldis Chapman, the hard-throwing Cuban left-hander who signed a $30-million deal with the Cincinnati Reds, often worked out at the same facility as Morales, but Morales did not ask Chapman to throw to him.
"We could have, but we shied away from it," Morales said. "He was getting ready for his tryouts; I was getting ready for my season."
Photo: Angels first baseman Kendry Morales connects for a three-run home run against the Yankees on Sunday afternoon at Angel Stadium. Credit: Lori Shepler / Associated Press