By Brent Stecker
Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak has yet to finish an MLB season with an average above .240 or on-base percentage above .325. He hasn’t reached the 20-homer plateau, or even topped 55 RBIs. But if he continues to play the way he’s playing now, that won’t be the case for long.
Smoak has been on a tear since returning from an oblique injury on June 18, raising his average from .240 to .266, his on-base percentage from .350 to .367, and hitting four homers and driving in nine runs over the 17-game stretch.
As out-of-nowhere as Smoak’s play has appeared, Mariners broadcaster Mike Blowers said on 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Bob and Groz” that the switch-hitter was showing glimpses of his potential earlier in the season.
“I know everybody’s been talking about how well he’s been hitting since he’s come back from the DL and that’s absolutely true, but the encouraging thing for me is I saw signs of it before he went on the DL,” Blowers said. “I think that as a hitter you start to realize who you are, what you’re capable of doing, and the pitches that you can handle.”
Patience at the plate has been a huge part of Smoak’s hot streak.
“The thing I’ve liked from watching Justin is his ability to take pitches that have been causing him problems,” said Blowers. “I thought he would typically swing at a lot of pitches that were probably borderline in, maybe even in off of the plate, which is a tough pitch to handle for most people. He’s been laying off of those pitches and taking them for balls, being patient and understanding he likes the ball out over the plate.”
Though he’s sitting at just seven home runs and 17 RBI on the season, Smoak’s production since his return to the lineup seems to point to him finally figuring out how to hit with power, something the Mariners have long needed from their first basemen.
“I’m more encouraged with the fact that he’s really starting to drive the ball now,” Blowers said. “We’ve talked about it before with other hitters, too — you start to crawl, then you walk, and then you get off to the races. I think he’s walking at a pretty good pace right now.
“I think I’m encouraged. His on-base percentage has been really good, he’s taking his walks and getting his base hits, and now he’s starting to drive it. We’ll see where his power numbers end up, but I’m anticipating him having a good second half.”