CINCINNATI — Justin Smoak watched Bronson Arroyo throw him pitches that might not have broken a pane of glass, including one that struck him out looking in the first inning with a runner on second.
The pitch registered 71 mph on the radar gun at Great American Ball Park.
“That one looked liked it came out of the sky,” Smoak said.
Smoak was more than pleased to see something different in his second at-bat. With a runner on first, Arroyo threw him an 87 mph sinking fastball away and Smoak jumped on it, driving a two-run homer to the opposite field over the wall in left field.
“I was just trying to get it in the air here,” Smoak said. “I got a pitch out over the plate and I (put a) pretty good swing on it to get it out of here.”
For Smoak, hitting a ball hard to the opposite field is a sign that he’s seeing the ball and not trying to do too much with it. He can get a little pull-happy.
“The way he threw to me in the first at-bat — a lot of off-speed stuff — I was just trying to let the ball get to me and think up the middle and the other way,” Smoak said. “I got a fastball on the outside corner and didn’t miss it.”
Since returning from the disabled list because of an oblique strain, Smoak is hitting .308 (16-for-52) with two doubles, four homers and seven RBI.
“I felt good the last couple weeks,” he said. “I feel great up there. I’m just not getting it done when it counts.”
When it counts is with runners in scoring position. Smoak is hitting .130 (6-for-46) in that situation this season, which helps explain why he has 15 RBI.
“It’s been dreadful,” he said. “I feel great at the plate, but I just haven’t got it done when it counts. If you keep squaring balls up, the homers are going to come, the doubles are going to come, but it’s about getting those guys across home plate.”
Smoak admits that sometimes the moment and his desire to produce with runners on base overtake him and his approach.
“The good ones don’t do that,” Smoak said. “You see Raul (Ibañez) go up there. He’s so relaxed every pitch and he gets a good pitch to hit and tries not to miss it. I feel like I just get a little antsy sometimes. … I think I want it too much.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge likes what he’s seen from his first baseman.
“To drive the ball the other way like that, and he just missed two other hits …,” Wedge said. “He hit the ball hard two other times. He drove the ball right-handed a couple times, albeit foul, but he was still on it.”
A HOBBLED HOMER
Nick Franklin isn’t 100 percent healthy with his sore right knee. But that didn’t keep him out of the lineup or off the field.
Spurred on by some good-natured ribbing from teammates about being laid low by a bunt to his knee, Franklin declared himself ready to play on Sunday after doing some pregame work to get the swollen and stiff knee loosened up.
“Sometimes it’s a good thing when the guys give you a hard time,” Wedge said.
Batting second, Franklin set the tone by belting a solo home run to right field off Bronson Arroyo in the first inning.
“I was just looking for a good pitch to hit,” Franklin said. “Down two strikes, I was just trying to make contact and square it up the best I can.”
Franklin played the whole game. And while there was a slight limp in his gait, he still made every play.
“It’s doing OK,” Franklin said. “”It’s workable, and hopefully it will get better in the next few days. Honestly, I felt it the entire time.”
Mariners trainer Rick Griffin had Franklin doing exercises between innings.
“That way I could still keep it loose,” Franklin said.
A delicious pitching matchup highlights the opener of the Mariners’ last homestand before the All-Star break. At 7:10 p.m. Monday, the Mariners are scheduled to send staff ace Felix Hernandez (8-4, 2.69 ERA), a right-handed All-Star, to the mound to oppose Puyallup native Jon Lester (8-4, 4.41 ERA), a left-hander for the Boston Red Sox. Root Sports will televise, while the game will be broadcast on 710-AM and 1030-AM.email@example.com