SEATTLE — The first day of the third act of the Jesus Montero Reclamation Project went as well as the Mariners’ temporary first baseman could have hoped.
For many, the expectations of Montero have been as low as the changeup Padres left-hander Eric Stults threw to him in the second inning Tuesday afternoon.
Montero reached down to knock that pitch out of the park, a two-run home run in his first at-bat during his first major league game at first base. With that one swing, Montero might have also knocked down some of the doubts about his ability as a major-league hitter.
“Today,” Montero said after the Mariners’ 6-1 victory, “was a fun day.”
Rookie left-hander Roenis Elias allowed only a solo home run in seven innings, Robinson Cano hit his second home run in a week at Safeco Field, and Kyle Seager drove in two more runs to help the Mariners (37-34) end an eight-game homestand with their third consecutive win.
Most intriguing on this day, though, was Montero, the catcher-turned-DH-turned-minor-league question mark now hoping to stick with the Mariners any way he can. After a failed stint as the Mariners’ catcher early last year, he was recalled from Class AAA Tacoma last week after Justin Smoak went on the disabled list with a strained left quadriceps.
“I really appreciate the opportunity that the Mariners are giving me again,” Montero said. “It was really hard for me what I was going through last year — very tough year. But little by little, I was in Triple A working hard to be here, and then they give me an opportunity again and I feel really happy that they were paying attention to me. Now I’m here. …
“Whatever they need me (to do) — if you have to catch or pitch or whatever, I will do it.”
Montero’s home run off Stults gave the Mariners a 2-1 lead. It was his first homer in the majors since May 8, 2013 at Pittsburgh.
Montero admitted being nervous to see his name penned it the lineup at first base for the first time, and Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t exactly give Montero’s glove a glowing endorsement before the game.
Asked what gave him confidence to start Montero at first for the first time, McClendon said: “I never said I had confidence. I said I need a first baseman. He’s available and that’s who we’re going to put out there.”
Montero made the shift to first base this year with Tacoma. In 42 games at first, he committed nine errors with the Rainiers.
Montero had handled all eight of his fielding chances without an error Tuesday before being replaced by Logan Morrison to start the seventh inning.
“If you look at his numbers his rookie year (in 2012), they’re pretty impressive,” McClendon said, adding: “He’s had some obstacles along the way; we all know about those. But he’s making amends and he’s trying to come back and he’s trying to do the right thing.”
Against the left-hander Stults, the right-handed-hitting Montero used a 34-inch, 34-ounce bat, which is two ounces heavier than the bat he would use against most right-handers, he said.
“I put a good swing on the ball, and I got to help the team. I’m happy for that because that’s what I want every single time,” Montero said.
“I feel good. I feel better,” he added. “And now if you give me another opportunity to play first, I’ll be better.”
Former Mariners catcher Rene Rivera hit a solo home run against Elias in the second inning that stayed just fair into the upper deck in left field.
That was the only run allowed by Elias (6-5), who gave up just three hits in seven innings. He struck out six, with no walks and one hit batter on 87 pitches.
“It was a good day for me,” Elias said through interpreter Fernando Alcala. “I had control of it and I went out and did what I was capable of doing.”