Clean slate for Justin Smoak plus fun stuff

Sep 2, 2011, 8:23 PM | Updated: 10:08 pm

Justin Smoak returns to the lineup tonight for the first time since suffering facial fractures in a game Aug. 12. His face is still healing but the swelling has gone down and everything feels normal to him. To protect the cheek he will wear a shield on his helmet when he bats right handed. Wearing the shield has been an adjustment.

“It’s kind of hard to see out of,” he said, “but I feel like I am getting used to it. It’s nothing that is going to bother me, it’s there to protect me.”

The biggest test for him was in the field where he got hurt in the first place.

“Taking ground balls at Safeco last week was fine but when you go to Tacoma, it’s a little different,” he said with a laugh.

The fields in the minor leagues are not quite as even as the fields at the big league level.

“Everything was fine. I got a bunch of balls hit to me and everything felt normal.”

There hasn’t been a lot of normal for Smoak this year who was just coming off a thumb injury when he got hit in the face. He played through the injury for a good amount of time but his hitting suffered. He hasn’t put up the numbers that many hoped he would in his first full season but as far as Eric Wedge is concerned, Smoak has a huge opportunity to finish strong and to that end Wedge is doing his part to take the pressure off. I asked if he was giving him a clean slate.

“I think that is where we are, I think that is a good way to put it,” Wedge answered. “We all know what he is capable of doing. I have said before that I take as much responsibility as anything for it. I told you I wanted to leave him in the five hole and by necessity we moved him to three and then I make myself a liar and move him to the cleanup spot.”

“I did everything I said I was not going to do but it was out of necessity and then he got banged up so I think he went through a lot of things he needed to go though this year. Now it’s time to come back here, enjoy playing ball for the last 20 games and hopefully finish on a good note.”

Wedge believes that Smoak still could hit cleanup in the future for the Mariners and that the pressure of hitting in that spot in the lineup ultimately was not what caused his numbers to drop off.

“I think he got in a position that regardless of where he was at he was trying to do too much early on because we weren’t doing a whole lot otherwise.” Wedge said.

Smoak has always insisted that he is comfortable in the middle of the order and said that bad habits were his biggest problem.

“I am just focusing on trying to keep it simple,” he said. Stay on the ball, use the whole field and stop trying to pull everything. Earlier in the year I got pull happy and it goes to having a bad plan. If you have a good approach good things can happen and you got to put yourself in the best situation.”

Fun stuff…Talk about a warm welcome, the visiting clubbies and bat boys were wearing the Larry Bernandez tee shirts today. They also set up a locker for Bernandez right next to Felix’s locker…More Felix fun. Felix takes pride in his travel day suits and most are quite nice. Some are a little louder than others but Felix can pull it off. Last night’s suit however…the color was almost indescribable. An electric blue/black metallic can’t miss custom affair that must have taken at least six batteries to run. Oh yeah, and patent leather shoes to match. Wedge’s description of the suit? “Kansas City blue, an expensive Kansas City blue, I’m sure,” he said with a big laugh. When you are King…Last fun note, Brendan Ryan is usually the last out to the field to stretch and often he is running out while still getting dressed and eating a sandwich. Today he came out without the sandwich which was a surprise because there were In-N-Out burgers in the clubhouse. I told him I was surprised to see him come out not trying to get dressed and eat a burger at the same time. He laughed and said he already had one and considered having a second. “It was a lot harder when I had contacts,” he said of his scurry to the field…

Team: mariners
Date Starting Pitcher
Tuesday, June 6 @ 6:40 pm Mariners' Logan Gilbert RHP vs. Padres' Joe Musgrove RHP

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Clean slate for Justin Smoak plus fun stuff