Justin Smoak was one of the key contributors to today’s 3-1 Mariners victory over the Reds, with a two-run homer off Bronson Arroyo in the third inning that provided the margin of victory.
Overall, Smoak is heading in the right direction. He entered the game with a .313 average, .400 on-base percentage and .542 slugging percentage in 14 games since coming off the disabled list for a strained oblique. You can even go back to April 11, and in the 50 games since then he has a pretty solid .814 OPS.
But even in the midst of a hitting surge and on the occasion of a game-winning home run, Smoak realizes what has been missing from his game.
“I think No. 1 for me is runners in scoring position,’’ he said. “It’s been dreadful. I feel great at the plate, but I just haven’t got it done when it counts. If you keep squaring balls up, the homers are going to come, the doubles are going to come, but it’s about getting those guys across home plate.”
The Mariners are the worst in baseball hitting with men in scoring position, putting up just a .222 batting average, so their problems in that regard are hardly limited to Smoak.
But he realizes that to be the kind of run producer the Mariners are seeking from their first baseman, he needs to improve on his .130 average (6-for-46) with runners in scoring position. That’s the main reason Smoak, with 206 at-bats, has just 15 runs batted in, one fewer than Brendan Ryan. Nick Franklin has 18 RBI in 136 at-bats.
Smoak had one opportunity with men in scoring position on Sunday, striking out with two aboard in the first inning. His two-run home run came with a runner on first base in the third inning so it didn’t improve his RISP statistics.
Asked if he was trying too hard in clutch situations, Smoak replied, “The good ones don’t. You see Raul (Ibanez) go up there, he’s so relaxed every pitch and he gets a good pitch to hit and tries not to miss it. I feel like I just get a little antsy sometimes. It’s part of it. I think I want it too much.’’
He added, “I’ve felt good the last couple weeks. I feel great up there; I’m just not getting it done when it counts.”
If he can add some clutch hitting to his game, Smoak will be move much farther down the road to being the player the Mariners envisioned when they acquired him in the Cliff Lee trade.