3/31/2014 9:30 P.M. ET
Almonte steps into leadoff role
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- Abraham Almonte had only led off twice in his Major League career prior to being penciled in as the Mariners' new leadoff man for Monday's Opening Day game against the Angels. But new manager Lloyd McClendon made it clear from Day 1 this spring that he liked the 24-year-old in that role.
And Almonte says that support has been appreciated as he worked his way through a tough spring where he finished with a .178 batting average.
"It made me feel more comfortable," Almonte said. "Early in Spring Training, I didn't really feel that good at the plate, and I didn't look that good. But he always had the confidence to keep me in that spot, so it gives you confidence when you see somebody trusts you like that."
McClendon said he wasn't concerned with Almonte's spring numbers, since he liked his approach at the plate and felt he was making good contact, hitting the ball with authority as the season neared. Almonte hit .264 in 25 games as a September callup last year and agreed that his timing has come around.
"In the last couple games of spring, I've felt I'm there," he said. "I've got it. I've felt good."
Almonte will start from scratch now, with what happens from here out being all that matters. McClendon is intrigued by the youngster's combination of speed and power and wants that kind of threat at the top of his lineup.
For Almonte, it's a golden opportunity to show what he can do. Acquired from the Yankees last year in a trade for reliever Shawn Kelley, he hit .314 with 11 home runs, 50 RBIs and 20 stolen bases on 94 games at Triple-A Tacoma before making his Major League debut in September.
Now he's experiencing not only his first Opening Day in the Majors, but a chance to be the first batter to step to the plate Monday night."
"I've been waiting for this day for a long time," Almonte said.
Focused Cano opens Mariners chapter
ANAHEIM -- As Robinson Cano prepared for his first Opening Day with the Mariners, the team's newest star acknowledged things are different after playing in eight openers with the Yankees. But the five-time All-Star second baseman wasn't worried about what was in his rear-view mirror.
"I've been in Spring Training with these guys for 50 days," Cano said prior to Monday night's opener with the Angels. "I'm just looking forward. I got used to the new team right away. This organization and teammates made me feel like I was part of this team. You're always looking forward to Opening Day. I just couldn't wait for that."
Cano did send a text to Derek Jeter earlier in the day, wishing him well in his final season with the Yankees. But his focus now is on a Mariners team looking to build around their $240 million second baseman.
"We've got some young kids that are hungry and love to play this game," Cano said. "We've got a good pitching staff and coaches. We've got a good team and are going to do pretty good things this year. But we've just got to go out there and play hard every single game."
Manager Lloyd McClendon has been thrilled with the way Cano has adapted to his new team, including his willingness to work with some of the young hitters. He introduced his "net drill" to several of his teammates, working with them on focusing to keep their hands in and not overextend by hitting with a net placed just off the outside of the plate.
"He came probably more than advertised as far as the quality of person and his desire to win and help young players on this team," McClendon said. "On a scale of one to 10, he's probably been a 15."
As for his talent level?
"Twenty," McClendon said with a laugh.
The 31-year-old said he's just extending players the same kind of treatment he got from older teammates on the Yankees like Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez.
"I was a young kid when I first came up, and guys took me under their wing and taught me how to play this game the right way," he said. "They gave me little things that helped. Those are the same things I'm trying to do with these guys, things that I learned and were passed on. Things that will help them not just this year, but in the long term."
Cano will have a lot of eyes on him as the Mariners' new star attraction, but McClendon isn't concerned that he'll struggle with any sort of pressure to live up to his huge 10-year contract.
"I think Robbie is different, because Robbie has made a ton of money in this game already," McClendon said. "He's been a big-time player for a long time. When you're really talking, what's the difference from 180 to 240? He's made money. He's not motivated by money. He's motivated to be the best second baseman in the game and that's pretty good."
Cano made $15 million in his last season with the Yankees before striking a deal with the Mariners that tied him with Albert Pujols of the Angels for the third-largest total in MLB history.
Zunino will handle bulk of catching duties
ANAHEIM -- Having a young catcher leading a young pitching staff would be a concern for some managers, but Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon believes Mike Zunino has shown he's ready to take on the task.
Zunino, 23, started 48 games last year as a rookie after being called up midseason, and he'll be behind the plate for the vast majority of games this year if all goes according to plan.
"I've been really pleased," McClendon said prior to Monday's opener against the Angels. "He's made some progressions. We've tried to take it one step at a time not to put too much on his plate. But he's handled everything we've asked him to do and done a pretty good job with it."
The 2012 first-round Draft choice played only 96 games in the Minors before getting promoted last year. Seattle signed veteran John Buck to work with Zunino, but Buck's role clearly is to back up the youngster.
"Obviously, Zunino is our catcher," McClendon said. "J.B. will get his time according to matchups."
Zunino hit .214 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in 173 at-bats last year and was penciled in to the No. 9 hole on Opening Day, but McClendon sees more coming offensively. Zunino hit .239 with five doubles, two home runs and five RBIs in 46 at-bats in Cactus League action.
"I thought he swung the bat pretty good," McClendon said. "He has the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark to all fields. He's getting a better knowledge of the strike zone. I think in time he's going to be a run producer at catcher."
• The Mariners opened on the road for the sixth straight season, the longest stretch of road debuts in franchise history. But that trend is fairly recent as the club has opened at home in 25 of its 38 seasons, including 13 of 14 years in a stretch from 1995-2008.
• Lloyd McClendon became the 19th manager in Mariners history with Monday's debut. Previous Seattle managers were 11-7 in their first game as skippers of the club. McClendon was 2-3 on Opening Day games in his time with the Pirates from 2001-05.
• McClendon said designated hitter Corey Hart came through Sunday's workout in good order, which means the plan remains in place to start him against left-handed pitchers in Games 2 and 3 of the Angels series.
• With Fernando Rodney brought in to be the Mariners closer this season, McClendon said seventh- and eighth-inning setup duties will mostly go to right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen and Charlie Furbush. That leaves right-handers Yoervis Medina and Danny Farquhar and left-hander Joe Beimel to handle earlier innings, with Hector Noesi as the long man.