The Mariners came through late in this one for a 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, courtesy of a two-run Justin Smoak homer off Brewers pitcher John Axford in the eighth inning.
Carlos Peguero had just doubled home the tying marker when Smoak stepped in and launched Axford’s 2-0 pitch deep beyond the right field wall. That put the Mariners up 6-4 and they held on from there for their fourth consecutive Cactus League victory. The latest homer for Smoak is his second this spring and second batting from the left side.
He had an earlier single today lined cleanly into right field. Also a line drive the other way to left field that Ryan Braun made a good play on for an out. As we’ve mentioned before, if he really has figured out this whole batting from the left side thing, a lot of the worries the team has about him will go away.
“I feel like it’s slowing the ball down a little bit,” Smoak said of his new approach and more compact swing from the left side, similar to what he’d done earlier in his pro career. “Early on (in spring training) you normally feel like everything’s a little quick and you’re trying to get your rhythm and timing down, but for me I’ve actually been seeing it a lot better than I thought it would be.”
Axford is no slouch and saved 46 games for the Brewers when they went to the playoffs in 2011. Though he struggled last year, he was still the anchor of a bullpen that used him 75 times from the eighth inning onward.
“He’s good,” Smoak said. “He throws the ball hard and has a pretty good curveball. I was just trying to get a pitch in the zone to swing at, I got (ahead) 2-0 and I figured i’d be getting a fastball. I just did everything I could not to spin off of it.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge was pleased to see Smoak go the other way with the liner that Braun caught.
“Not only was he driving the ball pull-side, but he was driving the ball the other way too,” Wedge said. “His bat head’s in the zone longer, he’s in a strong position to hit. He’s just much more grounded up there than he used to be.”
Yeah, it’s early and it’s spring training. But Smoak’s picked up where he finished last season, his swing looks compact and true and the hits he’s getting have been well-stroked.
Franklin Gutierrez also showed some pop with his bat,driving that mammoth two-run homer over the batter’s eye in straightaway center in the top of the third inning. Michael Saunders also hit a home run right after that to give Seattle a 3-2 lead at the time.
“When he hit it, I knew he got it good but I didn’t think he got it that good,” Wedge said of Gutierrez, slowed by illness and injury most of the past two seasons. “That ball went a long way.”
Gutierrez wasn’t driving balls like that in spring training two years ago, when a stomach ailment sapped him of much of his muscle and strength. He then got hurt early in camp last year before he could get into any Cactus League games.
“He’s seeing the ball well, he’s strong, he’s in great shape,” Wedge said. “He’s looked really good here early on.”