Seattle Mariners

Mariners notebook: All signs pointing up for Montero

Seattle Mariners first baseman Jesus Montero moves toward the base during a play against the Los Angeles Angels on July 10. Montero, 25, has beaten the odds in re-establishing his credentials as a legitimate prospect.
Seattle Mariners first baseman Jesus Montero moves toward the base during a play against the Los Angeles Angels on July 10. Montero, 25, has beaten the odds in re-establishing his credentials as a legitimate prospect. The Associated Press

It’s been nearly a year now since Jesus Montero hit rock bottom in Boise. Since the night he snapped and charged toward the stands when taunted by a since-fired Seattle Mariners scout in a bizarre incident.

The transformation is remarkable. And ongoing.

Montero, at 25, has beaten the odds in re-establishing his credentials as a legitimate prospect while emerging as a feel-good story in what, for the Mariners, stands as a dismally disappointing season.

“Thank God for all of the support from my family,” he said. “All of the support from everyone helped me to keep everything on track. My daughter and my wife, they sacrificed a lot of things.

“I turned the page.”

Viewed as one of the game’s top prospects when acquired from the New York Yankees prior to the 2012 season, Montero nearly threw it all away.

His weight ballooned. His defensive struggles forced a rocky position change from catcher to first base. He battled injuries and received a 50-game suspension in 2013 for his connection to the Biogenesis drug scandal.

The incident in Boise was the final straw. The Mariners suspended him, and his career hung in the balance. Montero vowed to change. The Mariners gave him another chance. A final chance.

“Initially, our expectations,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “had nothing to do with the game of baseball. They had everything to do with the game of life.”

Montero turned heads at spring training after losing 45 pounds in the offseason. He remained upbeat when shipped to the minors early in camp and responded by producing eye-popping numbers at Triple-A Tacoma.

That led to a 10-day promotion last month. Montero played little — he got just 10 at-bats — but when it ended, he cheerfully returned to the Rainiers, vowing to work harder to get a longer opportunity.

“It was fun,” he said. “I want to keep working hard to get back here. I don’t know when. Maybe tomorrow. But I’m going to continue to do my best to be up here.”

Montero then batted .472 (17 for 36) in nine games at Tacoma with seven extra-base hits. That pushed his Triple-A season totals to a .346/.388/.551 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 93 games.

“I was pushing harder,” he said. “I wanted to get back here. I was more focused about the pitchers, about hitting and all of that stuff. I wanted to do more damage.”

The Mariners recalled Montero on Friday as part of a roster makeover after making three trades just prior to the nonwaiver deadline.

And this time, Montero figures to get an extended look to determine whether he can replicate his success at the big league level.

“I want to see Montero play,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “So does Lloyd. So he’s going to get his playing time.”

Montero went 4 for 8 in three weekend games at Minnesota with a homer and two doubles. He also flashed improved footwork at first base. The redemption tour continues.

“I was talking with my wife,” Montero said, “and she’s so happy that all of that work we did last year is showing up. It’s been a lot better for me.”

MARTE SETTLING IN

It took five innings, rookie Ketel Marte said, for the jitters to dissipate Friday when he made his big league debut at Minnesota.

“I was nervous,” he said. “Now, it’s good. It’s same. It’s baseball.”

On Monday, Marte made his debut in center field when Robinson Cano reclaimed his job at second base when his strained abdominal muscle was deemed sufficiently healthy for defensive duties.

“I can play center field,” Marte said. "I've played center field before. I feel comfortable there. You never forget.”

Professionally, Marte’s prior experience in center field consisted of four games last month at Tacoma. He handled 12 chances with no errors.

“We’ll watch him,” McClendon said. “We’re evaluating our young talent. This is part of the evaluation process.”

Marte, 21, went 4 for 12 with two walks in three weekend games. He started a three-run rally Sunday in the 11th inning with a walk and used his speed to advance on a pitch in the dirt.

Listening to McClendon, the Mariners might have found their leadoff man for the foreseeable future.

“(Austin) Jackson has been good for us from time to time,” McClendon said. “(Logan) Morrison has been good from time to time. I’m certainly not trying to throw anybody under the bus.

“But when you have a speedy guy who is a natural base stealer, and he’s a switch-hitter on top of it, it just makes sense to give him that opportunity.”

GREEN LIGHT

A heads-up to opposing pitchers: The Mariners aren’t giving any freebies when the count reaches 3-0.

Nelson Cruz’s homer Sunday in Minnesota came on a 3-0 pitch in the ninth inning against Twins closer Glen Perkins. For the season, the Mariners are 4 for 7 with three doubles and a homer on 3-0 counts.

Cruz also has a double on a 3-0 count.

Cruz’s homer Sunday was his third two-out blast of the year in the ninth inning or later that put the Mariners on top. He didn’t have any such homers in his 10 previous seasons.

LENGTHENING ODDS

The odds on the Mariners’ chances to win the World Series have doubled to 100 to 1 since the All-Star break, according to the latest update from www.Bovada.lv, the online gaming service.

The Mariners were 50-1 at the break after opening the season at 12-1. They have also dropped from 5-4 preseason favorites to win the American League West to 66-1.

Kansas City is Bovada’s current favorite to win the World Series at 9-2, followed by the Los Angeles Dodgers at 7-1 and St. Louis at 8-1. Houston is the current AL West favorite at 4-9.

MINOR DETAILS

Rookie-A Everett second baseman Erick Mejia was picked as the Northwest League player of the week for July 27-Aug. 2 after going 12 for 28 in seven games. He scored seven runs and had four extra-base hits.

Mejia, 20, is a Dominican native who was signed in 2012 as a nondrafted free agent. He also spent time earlier this season at Tacoma, LoSingle-A Clinton and Rookie League Peoria.

Overall, Mejia is batting .309 this season with a .356 on-base percentage in 33 games.

Mejia is the third Everett player to win the award this season. His middle infield partner, shortstop Drew Jackson, was last week’s recipient. Outfielder Luis Liberato won for week ending June 28.

LOOKING BACK

It was 10 years ago Tuesday — Aug. 4, 2005 — that Felix Hernandez made his major league debut by allowing one earned run and three hits in five innings in a 3-1 loss at Detroit.

Hernandez was 19 years and 118 days old.

SHORT HOPS

The Mariners optioned right-handed reliever Jose Ramirez to Tacoma after the game. They will make a corresponding move Tuesday to add a fresh bullpen arm. Ramirez was acquired Thursday from the Yankees with outfielder Ramon Flores in a trade for outfielder Dustin Ackley. While the Mariners didn’t announce who they plan to recall, the likely candidate is right-hander Mayckol Guaipe, who has worked 11 consecutive scoreless innings for the Rainiers. … Cruz extended his hitting streak to 14 games and homered for the fourth consecutive game. He has 30 homers overall. The last Mariner to reach 30 homers was Russell Branyan, who had 31 in 2009.

ON TAP

The Mariners and Rockies continue their three-game series at 5:40 p.m. (PDT) Tuesday. Left-hander Vidal Nuno (0-0, 2.11 ERA) will face touted Colorado right-hander Jon Gray, who is making his major league debut.

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com

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