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August 14, 2012 at 5:14 PM

Justin Smoak hopes shortened swing leads to long stay with Mariners

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Justin Smoak is back up here for now. How long that lasts will be up to him, but it’s almost certain to go the rest of this season regardless of what happens on the field the next few weeks. Rosters expand on Sept. 1 and the Class AAA season ends shortly after that, so the M’s are not going to send him back to the minors if he struggles.
Nope, he’s up here for the duration of 2012. The question is whether he’ll factor into 2013 as the starting first baseman and how long that will last. He can start to answer some of those questions as this season ends.
He’s up here to replace Mike Carp, who strained a small, relatively obscure supportive muscle in the back of his leg. It’s not really his groin, which is what the team put out in a release. At least, not according to Carp, who hopes — as do all ballplayers — to be back once his 15 days on the DL are up. Here’s to betting he’s not called up in 15 days. Why? Because that would be on Aug. 27 and, as mentioned, rosters will expand five days later. You aren’t going to start fiddling with the roster — unless there’s another injury — to accomodate Carp when you can just wait to put him on the bigger roster Sept. 1. So, my guess is he’ll sit at least 18 more days.
On to Smoak, the biggest thing he worked on during his stint was “shortening” his swing — primarily from the left side of the plate.
“I wasn’t really looking at stats, it was more of just trying to get to where I felt comfortable,” Smoak said. “It’s still a work in progress. But these past couple of weeks are probably the best I’ve felt in a long time.”

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I asked Smoak about how he dealt with the mental aspect of being demoted.
“Nobody wants to get sent down,” he said. “Especially when you feel like, if you’re doing what you’re capable of doing, you’re going to help the team win. Dain in and day out. I wasn’t doing that. I kind of needed to take a step back and hopefully, I’ll take a couple of steps forward.”
Smoak was asked about his high walk total in AAA. There was a thought that some pitchers might have been working around him.
“I’m not going to say they were doing that,” he said. “I don’t know why they would.”
That comment drew some laughs.
Smoak said the walks were largely a byproduct of a lot of off-speed pitches and some guys “pitching backwards” in how they approached hitters.
He was asked whether he felt pressure that he was perhaps running out of time to prove himself in Seattle.
“No, not at all,” he said. “It’s a young organization and I’m 25 years old. There are still a lot of years left. So, it’s something I’m just trying to get comfortable with and do little things to stay relaxed and get comfortable at the plate.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he hopes the shorter swing makes Smoak better.
“He worked hard down there,” Wedge said. “I know he’s excited to be back and we’re excited to have him back. That’s why he went down, to do that. So, hopefully we’ll see him a little bit better than when he went down.”
I asked Wedge what went into the decision-making process to call Smoak back up right now. After all, he only hit .242 down there.
“We called down and talked to (AAA manager Daren) Brown and we talked to (hitting coach Jeff) Pentland and trusted their recommendation and we had other people see him there, too,” Wedge said. “So, when we talked about him versus other options, he was the guy. And obviously, we want him up here. I’ve made it very clear in that regard and we were happy with the work he had done there. So, we’re happy to have him back.”
Somebody else asked Wedge whether Smoak would have been called up this quickly had Carp not been hurt.
“It would have been probably close,” he said. “I wouldn’t say the exact same day. But it would have been sooner rather than later.”
It’s worth remembering that some of the team’s other options at AAA, like Luis Rodriguez and Luis Jimenez, are not on the 40-man roster. So, it’s possible the M’s did not want to risk losing somebody in order to clear a roster spot less than three weeks before September rosters expand. Once the Aug. 31 trade deadline with waivers passes, you could theoretically dump some guys to make roster room if unable to find a team to deal them to beforehand.
The lineups:
Rays (63-52)
8 Desmond Jennings LF
2 B.J. Upton CF
20 Matt Joyce (L) RF
3 Evan Longoria DH
18 Ben Zobrist (S) SS
7 Jeff Keppinger 3B
23 Carlos Pena (L) 1B
19 Ryan Roberts 2B
28 Jose Molina C
55 Matt Moore LHP
Mariners (53-64)
13 Dustin Ackley (L) 2B
12 Trayvon Robinson (S) LF
63 Jesus Montero DH
15 Kyle Seager (L) 3B
33 Casper Wells CF
17 Justin Smoak (S) 1B
30 Miguel Olivo C
10 Eric Thames (L) RF
26 Brendan Ryan SS
25 Kevin Millwood RHP

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero


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