Justin Smoak is back with the Mariners after spending the last five days on the bereavement. Through the Mariners media officials, Smoak asked that reporters keep their questions to baseball matters only. For right now, he'd rather not talk about the passing of his father to Keith, who passed away after losing his battle with lung cancer last week.
Smoak met with manager Eric Wedge earlier today and Wedge asked him what he wanted to do in terms of working his way back after the break.
"I told him I was ready to go," Smoak said.
So he in the lineup tonight in his customary fifth spot in the order and playing first base.
Perhaps the biggest question to ask of Smoak is what effect the time away will have on him. He last played on April 18 against the Tigers at Safeco Field. He missed six games while he was away. Usually a hitter's timing can be messed up after a long layoff.
"We'll see how it goes tonight," he said. "I feel fine. I feel like I just left yesterday."
When Smoak left, he was probably the most dangerous hitter on the team in terms of power and driving in runs. He was hitting .291 (16-for-55) with five doubles, two homers and seven RBI. He has the second highest slugging percentage on the team at .491 and a .403 OBP thanks to drawing 11 walks.
"I feel like my timing was really good," Smoak said. "If you are on time, you put yourself in a position to hit. I feel like I was seeing the ball good, and I was swinging at the pitches I wanted to.
The Mariners early batting practice was canceled today because of the threat of inclement weather. Smoak hit in the cage as per his normal routine. But stayed in there a little while longer to get some extra hacks.
"It's been a whirlwind," he said. "I'm glad to be back. I'm ready to get after it. I'm ready to move forward."
Dan Cortes was all smiles in the clubhouse having also been called up as well.
"The fact I'm here is pretty awesome," Cortes said. "I'm just hoping to make a difference and help win some games."
Cortes appeared in six games for the Rainiers, posting a 1-0 record with a 3.24 ERA. All three of the runs Cortes has allowed this season came in one game, a disastrous outing in Fresno. He's struck out nine batters in 8 1/3 innings pitched.
If you watch Cortes this season, you'll notice that he's a little smoother in his delivery. Or at least he's trying to be in the hopes of finding more consistency.
"Last year I was herky-jerky," he said. "I was working with Dwight Bernard on staying put and staying aligned with home plate. And then just be calm and cool."
Cortes admitted the new approach has his fastball down to 95-97. Last year it was close to 98-100. But he's sacrificed those few miles per hour with the ability to actually throw it for a strike.
"I don't want to throw my arm out just trying to get to triple digits, now I"m just trying to throw outs and get hitters out," Cortes said.
The other issue Cortes is dealing with isn't physical but mental. He's trying to find the balance of using that adrenaline rush of being in the game to his advantage and not let it overwhelm him. Admittedly, staying calm and cool can be an issue for him.
"That's what gets me sometimes," he said. "Mentally I get all over the place and I kind of lose focus. I just get into my head emotionally. That's what causes me to throw balls and not get hitters out. I just gotta keep calm and cool."
Any tricks to keep himself calm and cool?
"Just breathing and thinking of something that makes me happy," he said laughing. "That's kind of hard sometimes but I can do it."
Cortes is just 24 and he is still growing and maturing as a player. But its easy to see he's made progress when he talks about being cut during spring training.
"I was a little disappointed," he said. "I felt like I worked so hard. But at the time, it felt like I didn't do so well, like I didn't give it my all. I had a mental change when I got to minor league camp. I was like, I have to work twice as hard to get back up. That's what happened, I started working harder and pushed myself even more."
It made being called up again that much sweeter.
"It feels like the first time I was called up," he said. "We'll see what happens, maybe I can stay up here for a while."
As for the lineup, it's got a different look with Miguel Olivo making his second straight appearance at clean-up. Jack Cust was dropped to sixth perhaps in hopes of reviving his slumping bat.
- Ichiro CF
- Chone Figgins 3B
- Milton Bradley LF
- Miguel Olivo C
- Justin Smoak 1B
- Jack Cust DH
- Brendan Ryan SS
- Michael Saunders CF
- Jack Wilson 2B
RHP Felix Hernandez