Smoak, Saunders both sidelined Saturday
Veteran utility man Willie Bloomquist will take his place again at first in the 4:10 p.m. PT game at Tropicana Field. Bloomquist hadn’t started at first base since 2004 when he replaced Smoak in Wednesday’s victory in Atlanta, but he handled the position without problems.
The Mariners also lost one of their hottest hitters Friday when Michael Saunders felt his right shoulder tighten up while swinging the bat in the third inning of a 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay and the right fielder was out of the lineup for Saturday’s rematch with the Rays.
Saunders didn’t believe the injury was anything serious, but more of a discomfort. But the 27-year-old was scheduled to meet with the Rays team doctor on Saturday to make sure there’s no structural problem with what McClendon called “an impingement.”
Both players are regarded as “day-to-day” in regards to their availability.
McClendon had hoped sitting Smoak in Atlanta, combined with the team’s off day Thursday, would refresh the big switch-hitter. But Smoak struggled running to first on a ground out in his first at-bat in Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Rays and then wasn’t moving well in his second at-bat after he walked and then had to run to second on an infield single by Cole Gillespie.
Smoak stayed in the game and struck out his final two at-bats to finish 0-for-3, but McClendon had seen enough.
“His running was not good at all,” McClendon said prior to Saturday’s game. “He’s not a speedster by any stretch of the imagination, but he was really dragging it yesterday. I just didn’t like what I saw.”
After hitting .250 in the first month, Smoak has struggled the past five weeks and his average is down to .208. He’s still tied for the team lead with 12 doubles, is tied for second in home runs with seven and is third on the club with 29 RBIs.
Because he still appeared in Wednesday’s game as a pinch hitter, Smoak remains the only Mariner to have played in all of the club’s first 60 games. But his production has dipped in recent weeks and McClendon feels the strained quad has contributed to that, so he’d like to get the youngster’s legs back under him.
Smoak says the nagging injury just hasn’t improved, despite the team’s first off day in 17 days on Thursday.
“It was a little bit more of the same,” Smoak said. “I’ll give it a rest tonight and go from there. I actually felt really good yesterday during BP and before the game. Then the first at-bat, running down … it’s not something like it’s real crazy. Just a little bit of the same. It’s a little tight in there. I just have to keep trying to loosen it up.”
Saunders has hit .356 over his last 16 games to raise his average from .226 to .280. With six doubles, three triples and four home runs, his .448 slugging percentage is second on the team behind Kyle Seager’s .476.
He will be replaced in right field on Saturday by Gillespie, who has been on a hot streak of his own. Gillespie is 7-for-13 over his last four starts to raise his average from .217 to .333. Gillespie has played 20 games for the Mariners since being called up from Tacoma on April 24. The 29-year-old outfielder spent parts of the past four seasons with the D-Backs, Giants and Cubs.
The right-handed Gillespie has been used mostly against left-handed pitchers by McClendon, but was in the lineup Saturday against right-hander Alex Cobb.
“We’re just trying to mix and match,” McClendon said. “Righties hit this guy in the past and have had some success this year off him. I’m just trying to see what we’ve got. We don’t have the perfect lineup, so we’re just trying to mix and match and put guys in there and hopefully find a little lightning in a bottle.”