ANAHEIM, Calif. – Justin Smoak was named the American League player of the week Monday, not quite a month after he had a light-bulb-moment in New York.
“I was taking early hitting and (manager) Eric Wedge and (hitting coach) Chris Chambliss were with me and Eric said, ‘Try hitting the ball a little more out front, that’s where your power is,’” Smoak said. “It’s like it fit with everything else I’d been working on, and it just clicked for me.”
The Seattle first baseman got to New York batting .173, and there were calls from fans and the media for his benching.
After a week in which he batted .348 with a double, three home runs, eight RBI, six walks and seven runs scored, Smoak’s season average was at .238.
“I’m still a work in progress,” he said. “The last couple of seasons have not been easy, but I’ve never stopped working. I’ve had stretches where I’ve felt pretty good, but you still have to keep working when you feel good.”
Smoak, 25, began the season with 174 minor league games and 223 big-league games in his professional career, with a .227 big-league average.
The switch-hitter played 50 games before Monday’s series opener with the Angels, and in 193 at-bats he had 10 homers and 29 RBI.
“It’s a testament to how hard Justin works,” Wedge said. “It says a lot about who he is, that he didn’t get down, he didn’t stop pushing. He had a great week, but he’s been hitting well for awhile, now.”
It is the first big league player of the week award for Smoak, and he is the first Mariners player to receive the award since Ichiro Suzuki for the week ending Sept. 26, 2010.
Mariners players were gathered around the clubhouse television when the team made its first pick of the amateur draft – taking college catcher Mike Zunino.
Jesus Montero didn’t have time to react before Felix Hernandez yelled to him.
“They’re coming for you, Montero!” Felix yelled. “That kid is after your job.”
Wedge shook his head.
“Players and their humor,” he said.
Hernandez, Seattle’s ace, played catch briefly and is still feeling tightness in his lower back – and it’s looking less and less likely he’ll make his regular start Wednesday.
“I have to disregard a little of what Felix says,” Wedge said. “He’ll want to pitch. I’m going to have to listen to (trainer) Rick Griffin and (pitching coach) Carl Willis. They’ll have a pretty good feel.”
No, the Mariners have no intention of putting Hernandez at risk. Unless he has no issues at all today, he’s almost certain to have his start pushed back.
The Mariners share the American League lead in road home runs (40) in 35 games. In 21 home games, Seattle has 12 home runs.
Seattle plays Los Angeles in a 7:05 p.m. game today that will be televised on Root Sports. Probable starting pitchers: Seattle’s Blake Beavan (3-4, 4.72 ERA) vs. Garrett Richards (0-0, 0.00).firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLaRue