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Almonte steps into leadoff role

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.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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