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August 12, 2011 at 5:30 PM

Mariners’ pre-game notes: Smoak, Gutierrez, Moore and more

The Red Sox made a late lineup change, scratching Kevin Youkilis because of a stiff back and inserting Jed Lowrie, who is from Salem, Oregon, at third base. Lowrie will hit second, while Dustin Pedroia moves from second to Youkilis’s cleanup spot.
One other housecleaning note: the Mariners announced that catcher Chris Gimenez has been sent on a rehab assignment with AAA Tacoma.Gimenez was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique on June 29th, and transferred to the 60-day DL on July 3.
No one is more relieved to be back in the lineup than Mariner first baseman Justin Smoak, who returns after a five-game break to heal a bruised left thumb.
“It was tough. I don’t like sitting in the first place,” he said. “But it’s something I had to do. That bad hop got me and my thumb swelled up and was sore.
Smoak tried to talk himself into the lineup earlier, but to no avail.
“The other day in Texas I wanted to play,” he said. “Who doesn’t want to play in Texas, especially a hitter? I was trying my best to get in there, but it’s one of those things where I had to give it some rest.”

Manager Eric Wedge said the Mariners want Smoak, who has struggled much of the season since a fast start and is hitting just .221, to finish strong.
“I’m hoping that one, the injuries are behind and two, go out there and play him every day,” Wedge said. “That way he can get back to doing what he does best. And that’s driving the ball to all fields and being consistent and putting up good ABs, finishing strong and feeling good about himself.
“It’s kind of what you see Gutierrez starting to do right now is what I want to see Smoak get back to doing. They are two key guys, two important guys. I believe in them both. I think they’re capable of being a big part of what we do offensively, and really all-around play from them, as we move forward.”
Wedge believes the break could be good for Smoak mentally.
“I think I take some of the blame with Justin in regard to him falling off a little bit. If you remember us talking earlier, I was adamant to keep him in the five hole. But he was without a doubt our best hitter the first couple of months and I felt like out of necessity we needed to move him to three.
“I told you I wasn’t going hit him cleanup, and I lied to you again and hit him clean up. There are good reasons I felt the way I did early on. But ultimately you have to do what you have to do as you move forward. I do believe he has the potential to be a middle of the order bat. But you’ve got to remember it’s his first full season and he’s going through a lot, like everyone else. It’s easy to feel like he’s maybe a little further beyond that just because of the way he carries himself and the toughness we have seen in him — more so on the mental side, but even physically, too, as he’s trying to push through this injury. There’s a lot of baseball to be played yet. And we want to make sure we get every bit out of that.”
Smoak said, “Last year I finished strong and had something to look forward to and work on in the offseason. That’s the plan here now. I started out well here this year and I’ve been up and down since.I’ve got to find what works and stick with it.
For now, thought, Smoak is just happy to have his thumb back, having learned just how vital a digit it is.
“Unbelievable. I had to learn how to eat right-handed, brush my teeth right-handed. If I had a bottle of water, I had to give it to somebody to open it for me.”
As for Gutierrez, Wedge is hoping he, too, can salvage a difficult season with a strong finish. He’s hitting .353 (12-for-34) over his last 10 games.
“What you hope for is that he comes out of this better than he ever was,” Wedge said. “There’s no denying what he does in centerfield defensively. But you’ve seen him real good offensively, I’ve seen him real good offensively when he was younger. I still think he’s developing into the offensive player he’s going to be at this level.
“Because of that, none of us can sit here and say he’s this or he’s that. He’s still pushing toward that. What we’ve seen the last 10 days to two weeks, that’s what we are talking about. ”
Catcher Adam Moore, who has missed most of the season after knee surgery in April, will catch some bullpen sessions during this homestand, “which is a significant step,” Wedge said. They will sit down with Moore at the end of the homestand and decide the next step. Wedge said that Moore coming back to play for the Mariners this year “would be a longshot. We have to do what’s right by him, too. Risk/reward: If you get him back for a short period of time, I’m not sure how much sense that makes. We haven’t made any firm decisions yet.”
Wedge was asked if Smoak’s return means he’ll have to do more juggling than ever to get a look at all the young players the Mariners want to evaluate. He chuckled.
“Than ever? We’ve been doing a lot of juggling this year, so I don’t know. I think we’ll be able to make it work. Now, you get Ryan back and you get Figgy back (referring to Brendan Ryan and Chone Figgins, both on the disabled list), then we’re going to be doing some dancing.
“Obviously, the way Mike Carp’s been swinging, we want to continue to see him. He’s earned that right. Smoaker, too. He’s going to be playing every day, too. Yeah, we’re going to have to juggle a little bit, but we’ll do the best we can. The flip side of that is, it’s August, you’re getting deeper into the season. It’s not the worst thing in the world to give these guys an off day every now and then. ”

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins


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