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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

Topic: Justin Smoak

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April 7, 2013 at 5:00 PM

Mariners have some work to do in order to get this offense firing

Well, we’re one week into the 2013 season and we can already see signs of potential with this Mariners offense. For one thing, the power is there like we haven’t seen it in quite a while.

The Mariners have now hit nine home runs in their first seven games. Last year, they hit just three in their opening week and didn’t club No. 9 until their 13th game.

But a year ago, the Mariners were also 4-3. This season, they have started 3-4 after their fourth loss in five games today, a 4-3 walkoff defeat to Dayan Viciedo and the Chicago White Sox in 10 innings.

White Sox mob Dayan Viciedo at home plate after his walkoff homer handed Seattle a 4-3 loss.

White Sox mob Dayan Viciedo at home plate after his walkoff homer handed Seattle a 4-3 loss.

One of the reasons the Mariners have been losing more than winning is they’re starting to over-rely on the homer and aren’t finishing off rallies and innings with the kinds of key hits that can lead to multiple-run outbursts.

The signs are there, as I said. One of my big worries heading into the season was this team’s ability to get on base at the top of the order. Well, as of today, Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders have OBPs of .333 and while that’s not brilliant or anything it’s still loads better than the production seen up top in recent years.

Like I said, the Mariners have been getting on base. It’s what they do after that’s been an issue.

“It’s the first week and there are some good things that have happened and some things we need to get better with,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We need to settle in offensively. We know we’re going to be a good offensive club. But we need to settle in offensively, both different individuals and collectively. That will take some of the pressure off the pitching staff.’’

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0 Comments | More in game analysis | Topics: Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, kendrys morales

February 27, 2013 at 1:21 AM

Agent Scott Boras opposed to personalized skills training for players away from teams

Make sure you read today’s story on Robert Andino. Tough not to root for him.

Some of you might have read our story and my blog post yesterday about a growing trend of players seeking personalized skills and conditioning training away from their respective teams. Well, count super-agent Scott Boras out on that front. Boras has been pre-occupied of late trying to find a landing point for free-agent pitcher Kyle Lohse. But I’d called him up on this issue and he phoned back, wanting to make clear that he is entirely opposed to the idea of agents offering any skills training to clients apart from their teams.

Boras runs a training facility in California and recently announced plans to open another one in Florida. But he wanted to emphasize that he is only offering conditioning training to his clients. Any skills training, he added, has to come from the team.

“We would never consider doing something like that,” he said. “It’s just not practical. A coach has to be there with the player full-time and we can’t do that.”

Instead, he added, his facility offers conditioning work only to his clients and invites the team’s trainers down to work with players in the off-season.

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0 Comments | More in spring training | Topics: Justin Smoak, michael saunders, Scott Boras

February 26, 2013 at 3:06 PM

Mariners win fourth in a row with late Smoak bomb

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.

Justin Smoak (left) and Mariners congratulate each other on the field after today’s 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

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.”

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0 Comments | More in Cactus League | Topics: franklin gutierrez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Justin Smoak

February 25, 2013 at 12:01 PM

Jeremy Bonderman takes mound for Mariners for first time since 2010

1:13 p.m.: The Mariners trail 4-2 here in the bottom of the fourth, where Justin Smoak just notched his second hit of the game on a two-out liner to center. Smoak earlier hit an RBI double to right (both hits came batting from the left side) and gave us a chance to see Jesus Montero turn on the wheels trying to score from first base. Montero…well, um, he got thrown out. He might win a potato sack race, but for now, any other speed competition is best left to the pros inthe footwork department.

But Smoak’s continued hitting from the left side is reason for optimism. Fix that problem, a lot of what’s plagued him will go away.

Brendan Ryan hit a solo homer in the third inning to draw the Mariners within a run, but the Angels countered in the top of the fourth to restore the two-run lead.

Hank Conger rips a slider from Jeremy Bonderman over the right field fence for a three-run homer in the first inning of this afternoon’s game in Peoria, AZ.

12:15 p.m.: Jeremy Bonderman looked like he might be getting out of a two-on, one-out jam in the first. But after getting Chris Ianetta to pop out on the first pitch, Bonderman served up a three-run homer to right field by Hank Conger. Not the way Bonderman wanted to start his first game action since 2010. He threw mostly fastballs, missed on some sliders in a walk to Peter Bourjos, then saw Conger hit a 1-1 slider over the fence. He trails the Angels 3-0 after a half-inning of play.

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0 Comments | More in Cactus League | Topics: Brendan Ryan, jeremy bonderman, Justin Smoak

February 23, 2013 at 6:25 PM

Some positive signs for Mariners today

Mariners left-handed pitching prospect Danny Hultzen was overpowering at times in the fifth inning of today’s Cactus League game against San Diego.

There were plenty of positives to take out of today’s Mariners win over the San Diego Padres, starting with two of the hitters. We already talked about Jason Bay in the previous post, but Justin Smoak also hit a two-run homer today and did it batting from the left side. Smoak is a natural right-handed hitter so the left side will always be the one he has to work with.

Not to mention, it’s also the side he’ll use about three quarters of the time, since there are far more right-handed pitchers in the game than lefties.

“It’s feeling better,” Smoak said. “It’s still a work in progress, but at the same time this is as close as I’ve felt for awhile to being where I want to be. So, it’s getting better.”

If Smoak hits like that from the left side all year, the Mariners will gain a real impact bat. But let’s wait and see first. It’s only his spring training debut.

On the pitching side, Blake Beavan has spent the spring so far working to generate a more downward plane on his pitches and it showed today. The Padres managed only two hits in his two innings and one was a blooper. None of his pitches were hit very hard, which has been the case with Beavan in the past when his fastball straightens out.

When you think of generating a downward plane, Doug Fister quickly comes to mind. He became a master at using only a couple of pitches to repeatedly get hitters out on soft contact, largely because they could not square up on all the downward-angled balls headed their way.

“I’m trying to create some more angle,” he said. “So, I got to work on some of that out there today and put it to the real test out there with some opposing hitters in more of a game situation.”

The biggest mechanical change sees Beavan getting his hands moving a little more and with more rhythm during his windup. Out of the stretch, he’ll start with his glove up higher and closer to his face. He’ll then break his hands away more quickly to try to generate the angle he’s looking for.

“I’d try to compare myself to Fister but I’m not that big as he is,” Beavan said. “But that’s kind of the way I’m trying to get my hands separated so I can get more of a downward plane on the ball. Get everything going downhill and use my height to my advantage rather than getting underneath stuff and getting more rotation. That’s how your ball flattens out.”

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0 Comments | More in Cactus League | Topics: Blake Beavan, Justin Smoak, taijuan walker

February 22, 2013 at 9:03 AM

Another tool in the intriguing kit of Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders

Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders employs a pool noodle he calls “The lifejacket” to help keep his swing true. Photo Credit: John Lok/Seattle Times

We’ll launch the Cactus League season this afternoon at noon Pacific time when the Mariners take on the San Diego Padres. The starting lineup is posted on the turn page.

If you happened to read my story in today’s paper, you’ll see that Michael Saunders has added a “swiming pool noodle” to the interesting, somewhat unorthodox  list of gadgets he is employing in order to keep his swing more compact and powerful. Saunders spent a second straight winter with Colorado-based private hitting instructor Mike Bard, who is taking on somewhat mythical dimensions around these parts when it comes to how he’s transformed the fate of a Mariners outfielder many had written off this time last year.

Coming on the heels of our Justin Smoak story the other day, in which he worked with his own agent, Hunter Bledsoe, a former college hitting star, I think it’s important to note the similarities between the two approaches.

In Smoak’s case, he and Bledsoe employed “slow practice” their first month together in the batting cage last October. Smoak would take anywhere from 30 seconds up to a full minute in order to take one swing — something that enabled him to focus on the minutae that goes into every part of perfecting the technique.

The idea was for Smoak to develop the muscle memory needed to carry out every part of the swing without having to think about it. Once he and Bledsoe sped things up in the months ahead, it became easier to swing properly and more true.

Saunders and Bard are not doing things exactly that way.

But something Saunders said to me stood out.

“Swinging is all muscle memory,” Saunders said. “And that’s the goal, to critique myself and be hard on myself and keep doing this over and over until I get it right.”

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0 Comments | More in spring training | Topics: Hunter Bledsoe, Justin Smoak, michael saunders

February 18, 2013 at 9:33 AM

Justin Smoak hopes his last September surge different from those before it

Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak takes a cut from left side during live batting practice today in Peoria, AZ.

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.”

Come again?

“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.”

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0 Comments | More in spring training | Topics: cliff lee, Jack Zduriencik, Justin Smoak

February 12, 2013 at 7:33 AM

Mariners pitchers and catchers report to spring training today

At least one fan was already waiting at the front gate to the Peoria Sports Complex this morning when the clubhouse opened at 7 a.m. PT for players to begin reporting for their physicals.

Well, at least the sun is out today, though the temperatures remain rather cool. Not that it matters much, since pitchers and catchers are taking their physicals indoors today.

Justin Smoak pulled in here about 10 minutes ago to continue the off-season workouts he’s been doing here since last Wednesday. Smoak knows there is a lot riding on his spring.

“I can’t wait to get on it,” he said. “I want to pick up where I finished off last year.”

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0 Comments | More in spring training | Topics: Justin Smoak, peoria, physicals

December 3, 2012 at 3:45 PM

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik says he “liked Napoli” but has to move on

A look at the MLB Network set in one of the lobbies at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik was surprisingly candid tonight about how his team had hoped to bring free agent catcher Mike Napoli to Seattle. Napoli agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with the Boston Red Sox earlier in the day.

In Boston, Napoli will serve primarily as a first baseman, since the Red Sox already have Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate. With the Mariners, Napoli likely would have split time between catcher, first base and DH then — if all went according to plan — would have eased more toward a permanent first base/DH role once catching prospect Mike Zunino was big league ready.

“We liked Napoli,” Zduriencik said tonight when he met with us here at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in his regular session with writers who cover the Mariners. “Congratulations to him on his contract and to Boston for getting him. I think that Napoli brought things to the table that we liked. He’s an offensive guy, a right-handed guy, a veteran guy. But, he’s no longer available.”

Zduriencik said he didn’t want to get too specific on how not landing Napoli will affect the team’s plans at certain positions. He said he doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to comment on a player now with another club.

“You asked me if we had interest in him and I think everybody knew that we did.”

I asked Zduriencik whether he was surprised at the speed with which the Napoli negotiations were wrapped up, before the first official day of meetings had even really gotten off the ground.

“I think what happens with any of those types of negotiations, is, once a player gets to a point, he has his expectations and his agent has his expectations,” Zduriencik said. “And I think once those expecations are met, a lot of players will just say ‘Hey, this is what I was hoping to get, I got it, let’s go.’ ”

And now, he said, it’s time to move on. The Mariners continue to be engaged in talks with other free agents and with potential trade partners.

Zduriencik said one challenge he faces in talks is the way some teams tend to view prospects.

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0 Comments | More in Winter meetings | Topics: free agents, Jack Zduriencik, Justin Smoak

December 2, 2012 at 7:06 PM

Here’s a trade possibility for the Mariners you haven’t heard about yet: Pirates slugger Garrett Jones

The lobby at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville was filled with reporters and team executives by late this afternoon.

Things are bustling in the hallways of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel here in Nashville as team executives check in for the baseball winter meetings, watched ever-so-closely by media types from around the country,as well as Japan, Latin America and Canada. I saw Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik heading off with team president Chuck Armstrong not too long ago. Zduriencik got here yesterday and has been involved in an assortment of meetings both with his own staffers as well as others.

Earlier today, I outlined a series of potential trades and free agent signings the Mariners might pursue on the bigger end of the spectrum if they want to make an impact.

But I’ve also been told that the Mariners, in weeks leading up to these meetings, have had talks with the Pittsburgh Pirates concerning first baseman/right fielder Garrett Jones. Now, let me repeat: this is just one of many conversations the Mariners have had with various teams, but I’m told it got beyond the mere single phone call/hang up and that some actual names were bandied about between the squads.

One proposal went something along the lines of the left-handed hitting Jones and Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan going to the Mariners with potentially one other throw-in, in exchange for first baseman Justin Smoak, catcher John Jaso and starting pitcher Hector Noesi.

Again, I don’t know that this was the only set of names tossed about and you can be pretty certain that it wasn’t. But there it is.

This is exactly the type of under-the-radar move Zduriencik likes to make that takes everybody by surprise and leaves them wondering why they’d never had an inkling of it beforehand. Doesn’t mean the two teams will ever pull the trigger on it. But it does show you that there can be more than one type of trade beyond the premium guys that the Mariners could explore and theoretically use to get better.

Let’s look at the particulars of this proposed deal and why it fits within the realm of the possible.

First off, Jones would give the Mariners a guy who hit 27 home runs and slugged .516 with an .833 OPS in the majors last season and can potentially cover two positions of need for Seattle, albeit likely as a plattoon guy against mainly right-handed pitchers. He is 31, but under club control through the 2016 season.

Second, Hanrahan, 31, would give the Mariners a proven, more veteran back-end reliever as insurance in case Tom Wilhelmsen falters — and remember, Wilhelmsen has only been a closer less than one full season — as well as a needed set-up man from the right side. While the Mariners have youngsters Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps profiling as potential late-inning righties, they lack experience in the role and could be better suited rounding into the majors earlier on in games while Hanrahan handles the eighth or ninth for a year before he hits free agency.

Third, the Mariners can pull this move off without giving up any of their top-rated prospects, other than Smoak, of course, who is technically no longer a prospect despite his first-round pedigree and status as the prime return in the Cliff Lee deal.

Fourth, getting a slugging first base/right field type in a deal like this would cost the Mariners far less short and long-term than some other avenues they’ve explored and leave them financially able to pursue another bat via free agency. Let’s face it, bringing in Jones on his own would not be nearly as interesting as adding him and using the saved money to bring in a premium bat or another player he could share playing time with at two positions.

Why would the Pirates do it? Easy: for the salary relief.

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0 Comments | More in Winter meetings | Topics: Garrett Jones, John Jaso, Justin Smoak

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