MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Smoak powers through woes

Former USC star hopes to improve clutch hitting

The Tacoma News TribuneJuly 8, 2013 

— Justin Smoak watched Bronson Arroyo throw him pitches that might not have broken a pane of glass, including one that struck him out looking in the first inning with a runner on second.

The pitch registered 71 mph on the radar gun at Great American Ball Park on Sunday.

“That one looked liked it came out of the sky,” said Smoak, a former standout at South Carolina.

Smoak was more than pleased to see something different in his second at-bat. With a runner on first, Arroyo threw him an 87 mph sinking fastball away and Smoak jumped on it, driving a two-run homer to the opposite field in left.

“I was just trying to get it in the air here,” Smoak said. “I got a pitch out over the plate and I (put a) pretty good swing on it to get it out of here.”

For Smoak, hitting a ball hard to the opposite field is a sign that he’s seeing the ball and not trying to do too much with it. He can get a little pull-happy.

“The way he threw to me in the first at-bat — a lot of off-speed stuff — I was just trying to let the ball get to me and think up the middle and the other way,” Smoak said. “I got a fastball on the outside corner and didn’t miss it.”

Since returning from the disabled list because of an oblique strain, Smoak is hitting .308 (16-for-52) with two doubles, four homers and seven RBIs.

“I felt good the last couple weeks,” he said. “I feel great up there. I’m just not getting it done when it counts.”

When it counts is with runners in scoring position. Smoak is hitting .130 (6-for-46) in that situation this season, which helps explain why he has 15 RBIs.

“It’s been dreadful,” he said. “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.”

Smoak admits that sometimes the moment and his desire to produce with runners on base overtake him and his approach.

“The good ones don’t do that,” Smoak said. “You see Raul (Ibañez) 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. … I think I want it too much.”

Mariners manager Eric Wedge likes what he’s seen from his first baseman.

“To drive the ball the other way like that, and he just missed two other hits …,” Wedge said. “He hit the ball hard two other times. He drove the ball right-handed a couple times, albeit foul, but he was still on it.”

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