Spoke briefly with Justin Smoak this morning about his plans for the spring and how he hopes to carry over the success he enjoyed last September. Let’s face it: September surges have happened for Smoak before.
In 2010, he hit .340 in September with an OPS of 1.001. Had anybody really dug into it, though, they’d have noticed the whole month was fueled by a lone 10-day stretch that began in Texas — where Smoak tends to hit very well — and saw him go 16-for-33 (.485) with four homers. He only appeared in six other games that entire month.
And yet, following that, there were pronunciations that Smoak was somehow “cured” of all that plagued him.
Fast-forward to 2011 and after a good start, Smoak eventually faded for four months. Then came September, when he hit .301 with a .793 OPS.
No, it wasn’t as good as his 2010 numbers, but they were still his best since April and done over 22 games instead of the 15 he’d had the prior September. And I don’t think anybody will complain too much about Smoak if he hits .300 with an OPS near .800 for the rest of his career.
Problem is, he hasn’t.
Along came 2012 and the strong September for Smoak faded into oblivion. He had his worst year yet, until…September! Smoak spent the final month hitting .345 with an OPS of 1.005 — this time over 26 games.
I mean, you really, really want to believe Smoak has turned the corner this time. Jack Zduriencik wants it even more, believe me. He staked his reputation on the Cliff Lee trade and Blake Beavan, John Jaso/Michael Morse or not, if Smoak doesn’t pan out, the mega-deal goes down as a bust.
So, I asked Smoak,what’s different this time?
“This past one was different for me, compared to the other two,” he said. “The other two were good Septembers, but I didn’t really know what I was doing.”
“At the end of last year, I got something from it,” he said. “The other two before that were good, but I don’t really know what I did. The last one, I made some adjustments and it was a confidence-builder for me.”
So,what exactly are the adjustments?
“It’s mainly just when I’m hitting left-handed,” he said. “I shortened my swing, took a shorter path to the ball. It was something that I feel like I did and then this off-season, I tried to get into it a little bit more with my waist to make it even better. It’s probably the most confident I’ve been yet coming into a season.”
That last part is interesting because this is also an off-season in which the Mariners added Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez, three guys capable of handling first base if needed. Morales could be an opening day first baseman if he stays healthy.
So far, at least, the Mariners continue to say Smoak is still the first baseman. That means a lot to him. He says he tried not to view the new acquisitions of guys who play his position as a negative on the personal side.
“For me, I’m looking at it as us getting a lot of good hitters,” he said. “We’re not trying to get rid of anybody, we’re trying to add some good bats to our lineup. So, I’m excited about it. Looking forward to playing with these guys this year.”
For now, Smoak is spending his workout days trying to maintain the feel he had last September. He spent the off-season attempting to replicate and sustain the newfound swing path he discovered late in 2012 and now hopes it becomes more second-nature.
“That’s whatI’ve been working on all off-season so Ive hopefully got it,” he said. “Now, it’s just one of those things where you want to get your reps in and hopefully end up where you want to be to start the season.”