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Danny Valencia looking to break out as reliable everyday player in first year with Mariners

Danny Valencia has improved his hitting against right-handed pitchers over the past two seasons. (AP)

Danny Valencia has been in the major leagues for seven years, but the 32-year-old veteran utility man has always had to fight for playing time. In fact, last season marked just the third time in his career that he played at least 100 games and just the second time that he made at least 500 plate appearances.

Valencia will get plenty of opportunity to find that kind of playing time in 2017 in his first year with the Seattle Mariners, who plan to use him primarily at first base but also at third base and in the corner outfield spots.

“I’m excited. Everybody wants to be in the lineup,” Valencia said Saturday at Safeco Field during the Mariners’ annual FanFest. “I think the past couple years I’ve shown that I can play every day, and that’s the goal – to come out here and play every day.”

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As Valencia pointed to, the Mariners have good reason to want him in the lineup on a regular basis. After posting a .262 batting average, .301 on-base percentage and .404 slugging percentage from 2010 through 2014, Valencia has been much more productive since. Over the past two seasons, Valencia has a slash line of .288/.346/.477, and he had a career-best 18 home runs and 66 RBIs in 2015. He followed up with a respectable 17 homers and 51 RBIs last season.

Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto no doubt noticed how much Valencia has improved against right-handed pitching in that same time, too. Though he has a career .246 average against righties (compared to .321 vs. lefties), he hit .279 against righties in 2015 and 2016 combined.

Valencia credited a 50-game stint with Toronto in 2015, and playing with slugger Jose Bautista in particular, for his improved approach at the plate.

“Going and playing in Toronto was probably one of the best things that has happened to me because I was able to work with hitters that I can see myself wanting to hit like,” he said. “Jose Bautista helped me a lot. I watched him day in and day out … picked his brain. There’s some things I took from him in his preparation and his mechanics that I try to implement in my own swing, and luckily enough I’ve seen the results and it’s enabled me to step my game up and be able to show that I can play not only against lefties but righties, as well.”

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Now as the Mariners look for Valencia to help them as a veteran presence both at the plate and in the clubhouse, he hopes he can be part of what puts Seattle over the top in its quest to end its postseason drought.

“It’s a good team. They were in it to the last two games of the season,” said Valencia, who saw a lot of the Mariners last year playing for AL West Division rival Oakland. “I think I’m gonna help them out somewhat to extend their lineup a little bit – not to say their lineup wasn’t already great, it just makes it even more deep.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think we’re on the cusp of doing some really great things here.”