Justin Smoak’s importance to the Seattle Mariners’ offense has never been questioned. The big first baseman was acquired from the Texas Rangers in the 2010 Cliff Lee trade to be the middle-of-the-order presence the team desperately needed.
But because of injuries, inconsistencies and other issues, Smoak hasn’t reached expectations. What’s realistic for Smoak at this point?
He might never be a 30-homer guy, but some consistent production would be a start. And recent indicators seem to say Smoak is making progress.
Smoak had a pair of hits Sunday, drawing the praise of manager Eric Wedge.
“We’ve seen some things from him for a little while now,” Wedge said. “It’s been a little more consistent, which you like to see. A big guy like that can do some damage. You want him to be up there because good things can happen every time he swings the bat.”
Smoak is hitting .317 (19-for-60) with a double, four homers and 11 RBI in the past 15 games, raising his average from .173 to .224.
It appears he’s no longer trying to pull everything. Both of Smoak’s hits on Sunday were to the opposite field.
“I think he’s becoming more of a complete hitter,” Wedge said.
Said Smoak: “I feel all right. (The swing is) feeling better and better. Hits always make you feel better. I’m just trying to stay with the same approach.”
WEDGE NOT HAPPY
Wedge was frustrated by his players’ approach at the plate during the four-game sweep by the Angels – Seattle hitters struck out 40 times and hit .148 (18-for-122).
The lull came after a stretch when it appeared the Mariners had improved.
“What I don’t like, and this is what bothers me more than anything, is when I see guys moving in the right direction and then sometimes they will back it up to the point where they were when they started,” Wedge said. “They will retread over the same real estate. That (ticks) me off. I don’t like that. That’s a discipline. That’s more concentration. That’s a focus. That’s the one thing that bothers me.”
Franklin Gutierrez sprinted the bases and caught fly balls before the game and showed enough in the past four days for the Mariners to think his sore heel is finally healthy enough to let him back into game action.
“He had a really good day today,” Wedge said.
While the team heads to Texas, Gutierrez will head to the team’s spring training complex in Peoria, Ariz. He will play in some extended spring training games in Arizona for a week, then will be sent out on a rehab assignment to the Tacoma Rainiers.
Because Gutierrez missed so much time, Wedge said he will likely spend close to all of the allotted 20 days a player may stay on a rehab assignment with the Rainiers.
The Mariners begin a nine-game, 10-day road trip today, starting with three games in Arlington, Texas. Right-hander Kevin Millwood (3-4, 3.72 ERA) will start today for Seattle. Texas will go with left-hander Matt Harrison (5-3, 4.72). First pitch is set for 5:05 p.m. email@example.com 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish