By JOSH LIEBESKIND
SEATTLE (AP) – Making his first big league start at first base and just his third appearance in the majors in nearly 13 months, Jesus Montero made strides in proving that he belongs with the Seattle Mariners.
Montero hit his first big league home run in more than a year, played error-free in the field and helped the Mariners sweep a two-game set over the San Diego Padres with a 6-1 victory Tuesday.
The former top catching prospect was suspended 50 games for his connection to the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug investigation last year and began the season at Triple-A Tacoma.
"I really appreciate the opportunity that the Mariners are giving me again," Montero said. "It's really hard for me, what I was going through last year – very tough year. Little by little, was in Triple-A working hard to be here and they gave me an opportunity again, and I feel really happy that they were paying attention to me. Now I'm here.
"I just want to appreciate that opportunity that they give me again and I want to just help them, help them to win."
Montero, who said he was using a heavier bat than usual as he normally does against left-handers, showed the power that has made him a top prospect by reaching out of the zone to pull a low pitch for a two-run homer to left in the second and give the Mariners a 2-1 lead.
The two runs would prove to be enough for starter Roenis Elias, who pitched seven strong innings. Elias (6-5) allowed three hits and struck out six without a walk while facing the minimum in five innings. After failing to win a game for nearly a month, Elias has won three of his last four.
The only mistake Elias made turned into a solo home run by Rene Rivera in the second.
"It was a good day for me," Elias said through an interpreter. "I had control of it and went out and did what I was capable of doing. Thank God it worked out well for us."
"He has a good, live, young arm," San Diego manager Bud Black said. "He threw some secondary pitches as the game went on when he was behind the count, which I think helped him."
Robinson Cano added two more insurance runs in the fifth with his fourth home run of the season to give the Mariners a 4-1 lead and it was enough to chase San Diego starter Eric Stults.
Stults (2-9) allowed four runs, six hits and a walk. The left-hander struck out five, but had trouble finding the strike zone consistently and needed a season-high 102 pitches.
The Padres bullpen was unable to keep the game close, as reliever Tim Stauffer loaded the bases and then gave up a two-run double to Kyle Seager. The Seattle third baseman leads the team with 47 RBIs, the most by a Mariner through 71 games since Raul Ibanez had 49 in 2007.
The Padres have scored two runs or less 10 times in the last 15 games and have recorded four hits or less 13 times this season.
NOTES: The teams travel to San Diego for another two-game set. Seattle RHP Felix Hernandez and San Diego RHP Andrew Cashner are slated to pitch in the opener on Wednesday. ... Black said INF Jedd Gyorko (plantar fasciitis) is not close to returning from the 15-day DL, despite being eligible to be reinstated on Friday. Gyorko, though, may be able to shed his walking boot on Friday.
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