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July 10, 2010 at 5:09 PM

Justin Smoak eager to begin new career with Mariners

Justin Smoak has been through a whirlwind the past 24 hours. But he’s adjusting. his plane landed here at 1 p.m. and he came straight to the ballpark. He put on his new Mariners uniform and is now out there taking batting practice.
Just before he took the field, we had a chance to speak to him. He said the adjustment of going from a first-place team to a last-place club won’t be difficult and won’t create a letdown of sorts for him.
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“Your mindset every day is coming to the park and playing hard and trying to win,” he said. “To come from a team that I was on, we were fortunate enough to win a lot of games early on. But you’re never out of it until you’re out of it. Right now, this team is definitely not out of it. We’ll come out, play hard and go day by day.”
We’ll wait for another time to introduce Smoak to
Thing is, he’s got to be thrilled. When he was called into the manager’s office yesterday, he thought he was about to be demoted to Class AAA. He’s been struggling in his rookie season. He’s hitting just .139 with a .473 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) versus left handers this season and that’s not something the M’s were looking for when they acquired the switch-hitter.
“It’s one of the two,” Smoak said. “It’s either a good thing or bad thing whenever you go into the manger’s office. I really wasn’t playing as great as i want to be playing, but when they told me I was coming here, I was excited. The only thing you can do in this game is look towards the future.”
Thing is, it’s only his second full year of professional ball and he’s learning on-the-fly in the majors. Smoak said the biggest challenge he’s face in the big leagues is trying to “slow the game down” and play the way he had been in Class AAA.

Smoak has turned at times to good friend Matt Wieters, the Baltimore Orioles super-prospect catcher who got indoctrinated into big league ball last season.
“We’ve talked a few times,” Smoak said. “He’s a great friend of mine. I’ve worked with him, played with him my whole life basically until college. He’s a great player and a great guy to watch and a good guy to talk to.”
So, what advice did Wieters give him?
“Just relax and it’s the same game,” Smoak said. “Nothing’s different and it’s just bigger name guys out there, stuff like that.”
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu spoke to a handful of Rangers players, including Michael Young, about Smoak and said he was told nothing but good things. Wakamatsu said he came away impressed by Smoak and his demeanor after meeting briefly with him prior to BP.
Smoak isn’t the only guy Wakamatsu had conversations with. He also met with Casey Kotchman and Milton Bradley, who both stand to see their playing time reduced once the second half begins.
Bradley is going to be limited to pinch-hit duty the final two games, take the All-Star Break to let his bruised knee completely heal,the starting playing again. I asked Wakamatsu how he planned to get Bradley playing time with Michael Saunders in left and Russell Branyan now limited largely to DH duty with the arrival of Smoak.
“I talked to Milton today and I said ‘Probably you’ll see more play in left field’,” Wakamatsu said. “Obviously, you’d go a left-right type of deal. What we’re accountable to right now is to try to put the best offense out there. And that’s what we’re going to try to do daily.”



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