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September 18, 2010 at 4:15 PM

Justin Smoak and Dan Cortes called up from Class AAA for tonight’s game

Class AAA Tacoma has a winner-take-all championship game on Tuesday night in Oaklahoma City after winning the Pacific Coast League title last night. But for a couple of Tacoma Rainiers, the AAA season is now over and their major league careers are what’s in front of them.
First baseman Justin Smoak is back up here tonight, playing first base and batting fifth, for the first time since late July.
And in the bullpen, you’ll have reliever Dan Cortes, the onetime starter-turned-reliever, with a 102 mph fastball. Cortes was acquired last year in the Yuniesky Betancourt swap and will be making his MLB debut whenever he gets used.
Smoak told me it’s been a whirlwind 24 hours and he’s excited to be back. He said he didn’t stay out too late after last night’s game and was back in his hotel room packing a little after midnight.
Not quite the case with Cortes, who figures he was out until 3 a.m. celebrating the championship win. He was told, as champagne overflowed in the Tacoma clubhouse, that he’d be getting the call.
That pretty much kept him up all night.
“I called my Mom and told her and she kept telling me ‘Tell me you’re not joking’,” Cortes said. “And I said ‘No, Mom, I’m serious. I’m going to the big leagues.’
“And she kept saying ‘Tell me you’re not joking’. And finally, she believed me and just started crying.”
Cortes has fought hard to get here. He’s overcome some hard times, as we wrote about this past spring.
“All my hard work has just paid off,” he said. “That’s about it. All those days in the gym. The weight room, talking to pitching coaches. Just learning the game every day. It’s all paid off. I’m just happy. Enjoying the journey.”
He’d thought going into spring training with the Royals in 2009 that he’d make the big league squad. When he didn’t, he was devastated and let his ego get the best of him.
“I was a little big-headed back then,” he said. “Now, I’ve just had a taste of humble pie. I just take things easy. I was just really cocky back then. Now, I’m just cool with everybody. I’m very social now. Everything is just going well for me now, I guess.”

Cortes said he’d have loved to play in Tuesday’s championship game, but isn’t about to quibble about being in the majors.
The fastball he throws has been all over the map velocity-wise, anywhere from 97 to 102 mph. His command has been all over the place, too, at times. But that can work in a pitcher’s favor when the ball comes in at 100 mph or more. Tends to throw a scare into hitters when they aren’t certain even a pitcher knows where that deadly fastball is going.
And Cortes averaged a strikeout per inning in AAA (98 K in 96 1/3 IP). So, something was working.
“I don’t hold anything back,” he said. “As a starter, I was holding back energy. I was reserving energy just to go six or seven innings.”
All of a sudden, the 97 mph fastball began breaking 100 for the first time. One stadium scoreboard actually clocked him at 103 mph. But his team’s charts have him at 102 mph at his fastest.
He hasn’t pitched in four days. We asked him where his “amp meter” was going to be when called on for his debut.
“It’s going to red-line for sure,” he said.
That’s good. Because he’s been awake for nearly 48 hours. He was so amped-up with adrenaline that he “couldn’t go to sleep. I couldn’t get to sleep at all.”
If he starts throwing 102 mph tonight, some Texas Rangers hitters might not sleep either.
I asked Mariners manager Daren Brown why the team called up Smoak and Cortes now, as opposed to letting them play in Tuesday’s championship.
“For me, we play in the Pacific Coast League. They won that championship, they won a ring last night. If it was a series where you’re looking at a five-game or a seven-game series, I think it’s a different scenario. But it’s more of a one-game exhibition game. And you’re looking at them going to Oklahoma City and sitting for three days waiting to play one game.
“So, when we can get a guy to come up here and get some at-bats in a couple of games, I don’t like the thought of anybody sitting around for three days when we need to be seeing what they can do.”
Brown will try to work Cortes in to as low a pressure situation as possible. Russell Branyan is still out with that bad back, and Smoak should see the bulk of playing time at first base the final two weeks.
“He’s a guy that we need to see,” Brown said.



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