Mariners call up Betancourt, send Lopez to Triple-A

Updated: July 28, 2005, 10:10 PM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- Two years after fleeing his homeland, talented Cuban infielder Yuniesky Betancourt made his major league debut on Thursday night.

Betancourt started at second base for the Seattle Mariners after he was called up from Triple-A Tacoma. To make room for the 23-year-old Betancourt, Seattle sent infielder Jose Lopez down to Tacoma.

"Everything we've heard from our own people and other people around baseball is that this kid has a chance to be a player," Seattle manager Mike Hargrove said.

Betancourt signed a four-year, $2.86 million contract with Seattle in January. He fled Cuba in July 2003 and lived in Mexico before signing with the Mariners.

Growing up in Cuba, Betancourt said he saw only a few major league games, but became a Mariners fan watching Ken Griffey Jr.

"I watched them when I could," Betancourt said through an interpreter. "(I) really liked Ken Griffey Jr."

Betancourt started the season at Double-A San Antonio, batting .273 with five home runs and 20 RBIss in 52 games. He was promoted to Tacoma on June 2 and hit .295 with two homers and 30 RBIss in 49 games with the Rainiers.

He also played for the World Team in the 2005 Futures Game.

Betancourt had played exclusively at shortstop until Wednesday night when he played second in Tacoma. It was his first game at second since 2002, he said, but added he wasn't nervous about the position change.

Hargrove said this is not an audition, and that Betancourt would rotate between second base and shortstop with fellow rookie Mike Morse and Willie Bloomquist.

"It certainly opens up the competition a little more," Hargrove said. "He's competing for a job every day."

Betancourt said his parents and grandmother in Cuba would be able to watch Thursday's game via satellite at a friend's place.

Betancourt played second base from 2001-03 with Villa Clara in the Cuban National League.

He started at shortstop for Cuba's 17- and 18-year-old national team in the 2000 world championships, batting .523 in the tournament.

"(I) just have to take advantage of the opportunity given," Betancourt said.

Lopez was recalled from Tacoma on July 3, the same day the team designated second baseman Bret Boone for assignment. Lopez batted .220 in 17 games since being recalled. In three different stints with Seattle this season, Lopez has played in 24 games, hitting .228.

Hargrove said there were no issues with Lopez's defense, but that the move to Tacoma would allow him time to work on his hitting.

"We felt like he was a better hitter than he was showing," Hargrove said. "Sometimes the big league level is not the best place to work on your game."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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