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April 26, 2011 at 1:29 PM

Justin Smoak rejoins a new-look middle of the order for struggling Mariners offense

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Justin Smoak has rejoined the club after attending his father’s funeral Saturday in South Carolina. Smoak will bat in his customary fifth position.
But the guy in front of him won’t be Jack Cust. Instead, as some of you suggested in light of Cust’s good eye and walk-drawing ability, he’s been bumped back to No. 6 in the order while he tries to get his swing going.
Miguel Olivo is tonight’s clean-up hitter instead. He’s been hitting the ball hard of late, but has absolutely nothing to show for it. So, we’ll see whether some balls start to drop in for him.
Milton Bradley is in at the No. 3 spot.
Smoak was asked whether he felt his timing might suffer a bit, given that he’s been away from the team for a week.
“I feel like my last game was yesterday,” Smoak said. “It’s been a whirlwind, but I feel really good going into tonight.”
Smoak added that he was swinging the bat well prior to leaving and hopes he can just pick up where he left off.


Somebody who doesn’t want to do quite that is Dan Cortes, who, when last seen in a Mariners uniform, was walking guys left and right down at spring training. Cortes was prone to fits of wildness during a brief September call-up last season as well.
But when he’s on, his high 90s fastball and mid-80s slider can be tough to get around on.
Cortes told me he was simply too amped up when he came to camp hoping to land a job in Seattle’s bullpen.
“I think that’s what it was,” he said. “I didn’t have much time off in the off-season because I had to go to Venezuela (for winter league play) and stuff. It seems like when I got to camp, maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been for it.”
He’s talking, of course, about the mental side of things. Physically, he’d done a ton of off-season work playing winter ball.
So, the team sent him down to Class AAA to get his head together. He posted a 1-0 record and 3.24 ERA with nine strikeouts and four walks in nine outings that spanned 8 1/3 innings, though it was really only one bad outing that inflated the ERA and walks totals.
“I just needed to throw strikes again,” said Cortes, who limited lefties to a .083 batting average. “That’s about all I worked on. It’s about having confidence in myself and that I know I can throw strikes when I need to.”
Now, with Josh Lueke having imploded in his first crack at the big leagues, Cortes will get another shot. He told me he’s excited “like it’s the first time” even though he’s already had a taste of what to expect.
“I just want to get that first one out of the way,” he said. “Then, I should be fine.”
Ryan Langerhans isn’t in the lineup tonight. But he’s feeling a bit better about himself after collecting two hits his last time out on Sunday against Oakland.
Langerhans is hitting just .189, despite 11 walks that have given him an impressive .375 on-base percentage. He also still leads the team with three homers, contributing to an unusual .807 OPS despite the sub-.200 batting average.
The two hits, Langerhans said, came after a lot of behind-the-scenes work with coach Chris Chambliss to try to simplify his swing.
“Even some of the home runs I hit, those were on easy swings,” Langerhans said. “I think my problems started when I’d get ahead 2-1, then get a good pitch to hit and I’d foul it off. Then, after that, I wouldn’t get any good pitches to hit anymore.”
The early home runs didn’t help, he added, because it made him feel like he was on a roll and had to strike while he was hot. So, he started overswinging at everything.
And while the lack of ensuing good pitches raised his walk totals, it also made his strikeouts go up and batting average down. Langerhans has always been a player who has had to make the most of his limited opportunities, so easing up at the plate has not been easy for him.
But he’s trying to focus on making each swing in each AB count for something, rather than worrying about how his day’s final stat line will work.
“It takes some mental discipline,” he said.
The lineup:
RF Ichiro
3B Chone Figgins
LF Milton Bradley
C Miguel Olivo
1B Justin Smoak
DH Jack Cust
SS Brendan Ryan
CF Michael Saunders
2B Jack Wilson
RHP Felix Hernandez

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins

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