Maybe it was fitting that Justin Smoak hit the decisive home run in the Mariners’ 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels batting from the right-side of the plate.
Before Sunday’s final road game of the season at Angels Stadium, Mariners manger Eric Wedge was asked about the switching-hitting Smoak’s struggles batting right-handed thise season and if he should just give up on being a switch hitter.
“It’s something that wasn’t even an issue prior to this year,” Wedge said. “I want to make sure we don’t overreact to that. A switch-hitting first baseman with some power, and he does have power from both sides, that’s rare, especially with the way he can play first base. You’ve got to let him continue to go on with it. It’s not a question of bat speed or ability, he just has fundamental things he’s gotten himself into a funk with.”
To Wedge the idea of Smoak trying to figure how to hit left-handed pitchers batting left-handed – something he’s never done - might lead to bigger struggles than from his right side.
“For whatever reason, it is tougher left on left than right on right,” Wedge said. “You just see so much more right-handed pitching over the course of your life. That’s why there are left-handed specialists in this game.”
So in an incredibly small sample size, Smoak assuaged those beliefs for a game, yanking a slider off of Angels starter C.J. Wilson into the left-field stands to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning.
“It’s been a while,” Smoak said with a chuckle.
A long while considering Smoak’s last home run came on Sept. 26, 2012, and oddly it was also off Wilson in Anaheim.
Smoak, who hit seven homers right-handed last season, came into Sunday hitting just .190 (26-for-137) from the right side with just six doubles and six RBI.
“I just have to keep working hard at it, right-handed is my natural side,” Smoak said. “It’s just one of those things this year. It’s kind of weird. I feel like I’m in a better place left-handed.”
Smoak will focus on fixing the right side in the offseason.
“I’m going to get video of every swing I’ve taken this year and I will go back and look,” he said. “I kind of know what I need to do and I’ll go from there.”
The bullpen made Smoak’s homer hold up. The only run allowed after was a solo home run by Kole Calhoun off of Yoervis Medina in the eighth inning. Danny Farquhar worked a scoreless ninth, despite allowing a hit, to notch his 15th save.
It was a good outing for the Seattle bullpen, which has endured its share of poor performances this season. The group of Oliver Perez, who got the win in relief, Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, Medina and Farquhar held the Angels to just the one run on four hits.
“I thought Perez set the tone,” Wedge said. “We had to use a lot of different guy, most of who are tired and at the end of their rope. But they sucked it up in a tight bullpen.”
The extended work was due to the short, potent and pitch-filled return of Felix Hernandez to the mound. After sitting out since Sept. 2 with a strained oblique, Hernandez returned with plenty of stuff and velocity, but just not pinpoint command.
How good was his stuff? He struck out 10 batters in four innings. He became the first pitcher in major league baseball history to strike out 10 batters in a start totaling four innings or less. It was also the 26th time in his career he struck out 10 or more hitters in a game.
But at 92 pitches after four innings, Wedge couldn’t put him out there for another inning.
“I was strong and I was trying not to overthrow and throw strikes,” Hernandez said. “But I threw too many pitches. I struck out a lot of people. That’s why I threw so many pitches.”
Wedge saw enough from Hernandez in the outing to decide that he will start one more game this season, Friday night in Seattle.
“I made sure I told him that as I was taking him out of the game so he didn’t bite my head off,” Wedge said. “So we’re ok. He should start one more time.”
Hernandez was also pleased. He’s thrown 198 2/3 innings this season, pitching in Seattle will put him over the 200 innings mark.
“I want to do that every year, get 200 or more,” he said.
And he will do it at home in front of Mariners fans.
“I think it’s fan appreciation night,” he said. “That will be good for me.”