The adjectives characterizing Mariners right fielder Seth Smith are, pretty much, uniformly positive for all their monotonous similarity.
Steady. Solid. Professional. Reliable. Etc. All wrapped in the veteran package of a player who has seen the postseason in half of his eight big-league seasons.
In short, Smith, at 32 and under club control through 2017, is precisely the sort of player the Mariners sought in the offseason as a complementary lineup addition after signing free-agent home-run champ Nelson Cruz.
“He’s a grinder who can give you good ABs,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said after acquiring Smith in a Dec. 30 deal that sent pitcher Brandon Maurer to San Diego. “It’s a very professional approach as a hitter. He doesn’t strike out a ton. He knows how to walk. He can give you a good AB. … We think it’s a really nice fit for our ballclub.”
Smith handles interviews in the same grinding style he displays at the plate. No flash. He reduces questions to their base level and answers in kind.
Ask him about his projected spot in the lineup — No. 2 between Austin Jackson and Robinson Cano when the Mariners face a right-handed pitcher — and Smith responds: “I’ll hit wherever they put me.
“I’ll try to give a professional at-bat and see what happens. Wherever they feel like I fit is where I’ll hit.”
Smith accumulated 521 plate appearances last year with the Padres, which was the second-highest total in his career. Ask him whether his projected platoon duty requires any special skill to stay sharp between starts.
“There aren’t a lot of people who play 162 games,” he said. “Everybody has to find a way to stay sharp when they’re not playing. You’re a professional, and you know how to keep yourself locked in.”
Smith had an RBI single and his first spring homer in Tuesday’s loss to his former San Diego teammates. Asked whether he feels his swing is coming into focus with the regular season fast approaching and …
“Spring training is kind of up and down,” he said. “Some days, you’re working on things. Some days, you feel good. You just want to try to get it all together by the time the season starts.
“That’s where I’m at — just trying to get it all headed toward the direction where I’m ready on April 6.”
Let’s be clear: Smith’s answers are courteous and offered gently in the remnants of the soft drawl of his Mississippi upbringing. But our broadcast friends will nonetheless find it a challenge to piece together a riveting loop.
This isn’t a shyness borne of joining a new club. One former teammate said Smith has always been quiet in the clubhouse. Friendly and approachable, but quiet.
“But the guy can play,” that former teammate said. “I wish we had him. He’s a guy who helps you win.”
And, really, that’s all that matters to the Mariners. They see a veteran guy whose résumé shows a .277/.358/.481 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage in his career against right-handed pitchers.
“Doubles,” manager Lloyd McClendon said earlier in the spring. “He has a propensity to hit a lot of doubles. He grinds at-bats out. He has a high on-base percentage, and he hits right-handers real well. There’s a lot to like.”
Just this week, McClendon added, “He’s a professional hitter. We knew that coming in.”
Smith became available last winter in San Diego after effectively losing his job when the Padres overhauled their outfield by acquiring Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton.
“If you’re going to get traded,” Smith noted, “it’s better in the offseason. In my experience, anyway. All three of my trades were in the offseason.
“It’s nice when they’re kind of early so you can figure out things logistically with the family. But also so you can talk to coaches and get a feel for what you’re about to go into.”
Smith is joining a club that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2001. That was before he served three years as a backup quarterback at Ole Miss to Eli Manning while simultaneously turning himself into a top baseball prospect.
The Rockies selected Smith in the second round of the 2004 draft. He spent eight years in the Colorado system, including five in the big leagues, before a January 2012 deal sent him to Oakland.
Two years later, he went to San Diego, where he spent one season before landing in the Pacific Northwest. His postseason experience was particularly appealing to the Mariners in their win-now mode.
So, question: How good can the Mariners be?
“We’ve got really good players,” Smith said. “Right now, that’s what it is. We’ll find our once the season starts and we get going and how it turns out. There are a lot of good players in baseball. And a lot of good teams.
“We’re one of them, definitely.”
While McClendon isn’t yet ready to announce his rotation, it increasingly appears as if the five-man unit is falling into place.
The listed probably starters after Thursday’s split-squad doubleheader:• Friday vs. Kansas City in Surprise: James Paxton.
• Saturday vs. San Francisco in Peoria: Hisashi Iwakuma.
• Sunday vs. San Diego in Peoria: J.A. Happ.
• Monday vs. Los Angeles Angels in Peoria: Taijuan Walker.
• Tuesday vs. Cleveland in Goodyear: Felix Hernandez.
• Wednesday vs. Chicago White Sox in Peoria: James Paxton.
Note no planned start in the next cycle for Roenis Elias.
The battle for spots in what projects as a seven-man bullpen might be even tighter than expected. With just more than a week before the Mariners break camp, McClendon sounded a warning.
“One thing I expressed to the guys in that bullpen,” he said, “is that (All-Star closer Fernando) Rodney is etched in stone. Nobody else. Whether you like it or you don’t, it’s just a fact.”
It goes beyond the numbers, too.
For example: Yoervis Medina has allowed one run and four hits in 81/3 innings in six outings prior to Thursday’s split-squad doubleheader. McClendon contends that success is deceptive.
“He hasn’t pitched well to this point in the spring,” McClendon said. “We’ve had a couple of bullpen sessions with him and, hopefully, we’ll see better (Thursday).
“He did a nice job for us last year, but everybody in our bullpen did a nice job.”
The only reliever other than Rodney who can’t be sent directly to the minors is lefty David Rollins, who is bound by Rule 5 statues following his selection in December from Houston.
Everyone else can he optioned or simply reassigned to the minors.
“I think this organization is at a point now,” McClendon said, “where we don’t have to take guys to the big leagues out of necessity. We’re at a point now where we take guys because they’re the best ones to take.
“And there’s a lot of competition. I would say we’ve got nine or 10 legit people for a seven-man bullpen. So decisions are going to be tough.”