While he didn’t hit his second home run of the season until the ninth inning of Saturday’s 5-4 loss to the Indians, Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak has quietly been putting together a strong three-week stretch that has lifted his batting average to .254.
Going into Sunday’s game, Smoak had reached base safely in 12 straight starts and is hitting .328 (20-for-61) over the past 19 games with a .992 OPS.
The 26-year-old from South Carolina has been seeing the ball better this season, waiting for his pitches, and is tied for seventh in the American League with 24 walks. The only thing missing for Smoak has been power and he figures that will follow if he continues swinging well and being selective.
“I’ve been squaring balls up,” Smoak said. “I’ve hit a couple doubles. The homers will come. In the past I’ve got too pull happy trying to be a homer guy. It’s not good for me, as we’ve seen in the past. I’m just trying to get good at-bats, hit the ball where it’s pitched. It’s a long season. Good things will happen.”
Manager Eric Wedge said Smoak is following a natural progression that will pay off for him in the long run this year.
“I feel like Smoak and [Dustin] Ackley have been getting their hits, but now with Justin he’s starting to create a little more damage. He had the double the other way and the home run. That’s what he’s capable of doing. But he’s been getting on base, he’s had long at-bats. Those have all been good things to see.
“You have to hit first and then if there is power in there, it’ll come in time. But you can’t shortcut the process and try to get there without having the other because you’ll come up empty. He’s done a good job with that.”
Smoak and the Mariners are facing tough Indians right-hander Justin Masterson today. Masterson is 6-2 with a 3.14 ERA, but Smoak has had success against him in the past (4-for-7 with a double and two walks).
Here’s today’s lineups for the 10:05 a.m. PT game in Cleveland:
Franklin Gutierrez played designated hitter on Friday for the second straight time in his injury rehab stint for Tacoma, but the Mariners want him to get work in right field during his time in Triple-A in order to provide more options for when he returns from a strained hamstring.
Gutierrez is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list as soon as he’s ready now, but manager Eric Wedge said he’s not going to just keep doing the same thing with the injury-plagued outfielder and one of the changes will be getting him ready for more than just his normal center-field duties.
“We want him to play some right field as well as center, for a couple reasons,” Wedge said. “One, I think it’s easier to stay healthy if you’re playing left or right field versus center field. Two, Michael Saunders has been great in center field. And three, if he’s not 100 percent, then we’re better off with him in right field.
“Now if he’s the Guti of old, 100 percent, then of course you want him in center field. But he just hasn’t proven he can do that. So we’re going to give him some time down there to work things out. We DH’d him last night just because of the weather conditions, but we want him to play both.”
Saunders has played very well in center and Wedge is very comfortable keeping him there. But he’d be glad to have a fully healthy Gutierrez there if that is possible.
Wedge said Saunders is the better center fielder right now “if Guti’s not 100 percent. But if Guti’s 100 percent, I don’t think there’s anybody better.”
Getting Gutierrez healthy has long been the issue, however. He’s now on his fifth disabled list stint in the past three seasons. He’s played just 148 games in those three seasons while missing 218. So Wedge wants to see something different during this rehab stint before he returns.
The Mariners have 20 days to make that decision.
“I’m going to work off him,” Wedge said of a possible return date. “But like I told him, I need him not to just be able to play up here, but be able to play every day, steal a base and do some things. Otherwise we’re just going to end up back where we are right now. I want to give it some time.”
The tough part for the Mariners is when they bring Gutierrez back, they’ll need to make a roster decision. They can’t carry six outfielders, so someone will have to go at that time and Endy Chavez seems the likely man out unless there’s an injury in the meantime.
But sending Chavez down would mean exposing him to waivers and someone could claim him, given he’s played pretty well. But the Mariners will face that decision when it comes. For now, they just push ahead with Saunders in center and Gutierrez in Tacoma.
Saunders has started 15 straight games since returning from a sprained shoulder and has struggled on the current road trip, going 2-for-19 in the first four games. So Wedge gave him Saturday off and had Chavez in center, with Saunders expected back Sunday.
Michael Morse was also back on Saturday, recovered from an eye irritation caused by a contact lens problem before Friday’s game.
Here’s the full lineups:
CLEVELAND – Outfielder Michael Morse, who has been carrying a hot bat the last week, was scratched from the Mariners lineup about an hour before Friday’s series opener with the Indians due to irritation in his eye.
Morse will be available off the bench for the 4:05 p.m. PT contest, but Endy Chavez took his place in right field to start the game.
Morse hit his 10th home run of the season in Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Yankees. Since moving to the fifth spot in the lineup on May 12, he’s hit .600 (9-for-15) with four straight multi-hit games.
The big outfielder was tied for fifth in the American League with his 10 home runs going into Friday’s games and was hitting .261 with 17 RBIs in 35 games.
Here’s the updated lineup:
Aaron Harang had one team he’d yet to pitch against in his Major League career — the New York Yankees — and that will remain true tonight as the 12-year veteran has been scratched from Thursday’s start with lower back stiffness.
Hector Noesi, the former Yankee, will get the start in his place in the 4:05 p.m. PT game.
Noesi has pitched pretty well in relief for the Mariners, but has a history of trouble as a starter since being acquired in the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade in 2012.
Noesi was 2-12 with a 6.24 ER in 18 starts last season. He’s put up a 3.86 ERA in three reiever appearances this year since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma on April 18.
The Harang news comes at a tough time since he’d just started to get into a groove after being acquired by trade on April 12. Harang is 1-4 with a 7.30 ERA, but had put up back-to-back quality starts against the Orioles and Pirates and felt he had straightened out some mechanical issues that were plaguing him earlier.
Noesi hasn’t pitched in 11 days, so it’ll be interesting to see how long he can go.
The Mariners scored 12 runs against the Yankees on Wednesday, so a little more of that might help. But Andy Pettitte’s on the hill tonight, so that’ll be no easy task.
Noesi does have some success at Yankee Stadium, where he’s 1-2 with a 3.29 ERA in 15 games, including two starts.
Here’s tonight’s lineups:
Aaron Harang has pitched in 304 games in his 12-year Major League career, but the one team he’s yet to face is the Yankees. Until now.
Harang gets the ball Thursday night for the final game of the Mariners three-game series in New York as he makes his sixth start since being acquired by trade from the Rockies on April 11.
“I didn’t really even think about it until yesterday,” Harang said. “I knew I hadn’t pitched here in Yankee Stadium. I’ve faced them in Spring Training before, but that’s always a little different. I’ve watched most of these guys before or maybe faced them on different teams over in the National League and stuff. I’m not going to change anything. I’ll go out and try to give us a chance to win.”
Harang is 1-4 with a 7.30 ERA, but has pitched better his last two outings with back-to-back quality starts against the Orioles and Pirates. He’s had four extra days since his last outing on May 7, however, thanks to a quirky schedule that saw three off days in the span of eight days. The Mariners kept top starters Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in order and pushed back the rest of their rotation.
“That’s one of the minor adjustments you have to make,” Harang said. “Especially when you’ve got your one and two guys, you don’t want to give them a ton of extra days off. The 4-5 off day we had in a two week period was something weird, but you’ve got to keep your guys that are rolling hot you’ve got to stick with them and everybody else works around them. And that’s fine with us. It’s part of the game and part of knowing our role and what we need to do.”
Harang said he continued working on some minor adjustments in his delivery that have helped his last two starts.
“I feel good with how things are going. I feel we’ve kind of hit the nail on the head with something and now it’s just a matter of repeating that and keeping it going. I think that’s the biggest thing, just getting the repetitions to help me repeat that motion.”
Coming off last nights’ 12-2 win, the Mariners would love to carry their momentum into a series victory over the Yankees. It won’t be easy though, with Andy Pettitte on the mound for New York in the 4:05 p.m. game.
Mariners ace Felix Hernandez showed up at Yankee Stadium feeling fine on Wednesday afternoon after being taken out of Tuesday’s game following the sixth inning due to a tight back.
Hernandez tweaked his back while fielding a ground ball and turning and firing to second base in the sixth. He stayed in for the rest of that inning, but didn’t return for the seventh with a 3-1 lead and having thrown 97 pitches.
The Mariners wound up losing 4-3 to the Yankees and manager Eric Wedge said he definitely would have kept Hernandez in for another inning if the back issue hadn’t cropped up. But Wedge indicated Wednesday that things were looking fine a day later.
“He’s good, “Wedge said. “He said it was pretty sore this morning, but he feels good and [trainer Rick Griffin] felt he got him in a good place after the game last night and he’s feeling good today, so we should be fine.”
Will there be any changes to Hernandez’s preparation this week before his next scheduled start on Sunday in Cleveland?
“I don’t think so,” Wedge said. “I think we’re OK.”
Hernandez is 5-2 with an American League-leading 1.53 ERA after nine starts.
Hisashi Iwakuma, who is third in the AL in ERA at 1.74, gets the start against the Yankees this evening at Yankee Stadium in the 4:05 p.m. PT game.
Here are today’s lineups:
Second baseman Dustin Ackley isn’t in the lineup for a second straight game on Tuesday as the Mariners open a nine-day road trip at Yankee Stadium in a 4:05 p.m. game, but manager Eric Wedge said that was strictly about playing matchups against standout CC Sabathia.
Wedge made a few moves with his lineup, not starting first baseman Justin Smoak or catcher Jesus Montero as well, while getting veteran Raul Ibanez in at designated hitter and using Robert Andino at second base while keeping Brendan Ryan at shortstop.
“It’s more of a matchup thing than anything,” Wedge said. “I wanted to get Raul in there and I wanted to get Andino and Ryan in there. They both had decent numbers against CC. I talked to both [Ackley] and Smoaker. ‘Don’t read into it, it’s just a matchup and wanting to get a few other guys in there and potentially have our best lineup in there today.”
The decision to play the left-handed hitting Ibanez against the southpaw Sabathia is interesting, but Ibanez has hit .286 (12-for-42) with two home runs and 10 RBIs against the Yankees ace. Andino has hit .348 (8-for-23) and Ryan is at .400 (4-for-10).
“Raul has faced him more than anybody,” Wedge said. “It’s just a knowledge base. There’s specific history there that they can pull from. Of course that goes both ways, but you trust your people and just certain matchups work better, that type of pitcher vs. that type of hitter or his stuff vs. that type of hitter. That’s just the way it works, so you try to put your best lineup out there.”
Wedge said he also takes Ibanez’s history of success at Yankee Stadium into account. The veteran hit .273 at the stadium last year when he was playing for the Yankees, with 14 of his 19 home runs coming in his home park.
The Yankees have put together a 24-14 start despite missing many of their key players. Now they’re getting Curtis Granderson back today as he’s starting for the first time this season.
This figures to be an interesting series for the Mariners, who are throwing Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma against the Bronx Bombers and could make a nice statement if they can win this series.
The Mariners have gone 4-0-1 in their last five series after opening the year 0-5-2 in their first seven series.
Here’s the full lineups today:
Mariners manager Eric Wedge had Kyle Seager in the three-hole in the lineup for Sunday’s series finale against the A’s and indicated the young third baseman could see more of that going forward as he looks to find the right mix.
Wedge hopes the move helps alleviate some of the pressure felt by designated hitter Kendrys Morales and right fielder Michael Morse, who he dropped down to the four and five spots for the first time.
“I’m playing around with it a little bit,” Wedge said. “I still stand by the fact that Morales and Morse are just trying to do too much. They know they’re the guys here and I think with that sometimes you put a little too much pressure on yourself to do too much. You see both of them chasing more than they should.
“And Kyle is a very mature young hitter. We’ve seen that. The reality is he’s probably more than [just a two-hole hitter]. And I trust him. There’s not too much we can give him that he can’t handle and he’s already proven that.”
Seager hit third in 69 games last season when he led the team in home runs and RBIs, but the feeling this year was that the new additions would allow him to move into a new role. As it’s played out, however, Wedge sees Seager’s versatility and ability to handle that kind of role as being helpful now in sorting things out for the new power hitters as they find their own comfort levels.
“I look at him as either a two or three-hole hitter,” Wedge said. “It just takes some time to figure out what everyone ultimately is going to be. With Morales and Morse, they’re they keys. Once we figure out where they belong, we can work everybody else off that.
“When you bring somebody over here and they’re the guy, it’s a little different for them. Kendrys is so good, the on-base percentage, he’s going to hit. He’s going to be fine in the end. But ultimately we need to be able to count on him every day. So it’s a matter of who works off who better. Morse-Morales? Morales-Morse? How does Seager play into that? How does [Justin] Smoak play into that? We have to figure all that out.”
Here’s the full lineups for Sunday’s 1:10 p.m. game:
Playing time has been sparse for Raul Ibanez recently after a slow start to his season, but the veteran outfielder has made the most of his limited recent opportunities and manager Eric Wedge had him back in the lineup for Friday’s series opener with the A’s.
Ibanez is hitting just .180 in 61 at-bats and has started just twice in the last 12 games. But more has been less for the 40-year-old as he’s gone 3-for-7 in that limited role after losing playing time following a 1-for-23 slump.
“It’s fine,” Ibanez said of his playing situation. “I’m not really worried about it. You just stay ready and work on your craft and nothing really changes. You stay prepared to do your job.”
Wedge hasn’t forgotten about the 18-year veteran, who laced a pinch hit RBI double on Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
“I want to give him an opportunity,” Wedge said. “He hasn’t played a great deal lately. He played quite a bit early on, but we want to still give him an opportunity to get going. He had a big pinch hit for us the other night and had the one start on the road. I’m trying to get him back in there after an off day and hopefully he’ll do something to help us win the game.”
Ibanez has been in every situation in baseball, so trying to get sharp even while playing less doesn’t faze him.
“You just do it,” he said. “I don’t put a lot of thought into it. You just make it work. It’s pretty simple approach. Make it work.”
Here’s the full lineups for tonight’s 7:10 p.m. game:
My apologies for letting the blog go quiet for the past week, but I needed a break to gather myself and deal with some family matters while I skipped the last road trip.
Of course, even while I’m off, we have other writers filing three or four stories a day on Mariners.com, so the news is always covered. But I’ll be back in the saddle tonight myself as the Mariners return home for a quick three-game set with the A’s before heading out on the road again.
Here are the pitching matchups for the A’s series, which starts with Hisashi Iwakuma tonight against Dan Straily.
And I wasn’t completely away these last few days. Here’s a Mother’s Day piece I did on Kyle Seager’s mom, an interesting lady from North Carolina who has raised three outstanding ballplayers.
I’ll check in from the park this afternoon both here and with the daily updates on Mariners.com. Thanks again for your patience with the blog. It was good to get a little time to work on some personal things that sometimes get overwhelmed by the daily grind of an MLB beat.