Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak walked three times in his first two games. Last season, he didn't draw his third walk until his 10th game.
OAKLAND, Calif. — Justin Smoak claimed not to understand what all the fuss was about over his sudden walk-drawing ability.
“It’s only been three,” he said with a laugh Wednesday as the Mariners prepared to play the Athletics.
But it’s taken only two games for Smoak to manage the three free passes, one of them with the bases loaded to force home a key run that broke open Tuesday night’s game. Last year, it took 10 games for Smoak to draw his first three walks.
“I think the big thing is being ready to hit when I get in the box,” Smoak said. “I feel like I’m in a better position to hit and I’m going up there ready to hit. It allows me to lay off the borderline pitches when you’re ready to go. And when you get those sliders in the dirt and those changeups in the dirt, you just have to lay off of them.”
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Smoak worked extensively on his mental and physical approach to at-bats during the offseason. He focused on targeting specific pitches to look for and zones he wanted to see them in.
Everything else, he stayed away from.
“It’s definitely felt a lot better,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep what I’ve got going on and build a foundation.”
Smoak entered play Wednesday with just one hit his first six at-bats. But while his batting average was .167, the walks brought his on-base percentage to a robust .444.
It’s still too early to view such statistics with much seriousness. Smoak agreed he hasn’t seen all that many pitches to drive yet — though he sent a long foul ball deep into the stands Tuesday.
“It’s just a matter of waiting it out,” he said. “Right now, I’ve just got to keep having good at-bats. I’m going to get pitches to hit at some point.”
Bay making adjustment to role
Mariners outfielder Jason Bay got his first playing time of the season Wednesday with a start in left field. Bay, 34, has been an everyday player for a decade when healthy and has some adjusting to do when it comes to his part-time role.
So, he went to teammate Raul Ibanez, 40, for advice before the season opener.
“It’s about being ready for late in the game, knowing that’s my role now,” Bay said. “It was all new to me, so I went up to Raul and he told me the best way is to develop a routine.
“So, what I’ve been doing is, I’ll come in every day around the fifth inning and ride the bike (in the visiting clubhouse) just to stay warm. So, then, when your time comes, you’re not going in there cold.”
Bay said the routine will require minor adjustments as the Mariners travel to Chicago over the weekend, then home to Safeco Field next week. The ballparks will be configured somewhat differently and have their workout facilities in various places that won’t be identical to here.
“I’m just trying to get a template for what I need to do,” he said. “Once I have that, I can adjust it depending on the circumstances. But having the routine is the big thing. If you can develop that., then it helps keep you ready and focused.”
Maurer enjoying major-league experience
Mariners pitcher Brandon Maurer spent Wednesday walking around San Francisco with his parents touring the sights. It’s been an eye-opening first few days in the majors for Maurer, who makes his debut Thursday against the A’s.
“It’s been everything I could think of and more,” Maurer said. “My expectations were just blown away. Being here on opening night, with the huge crowd and the noise and watching Felix (Hernandez) pitch. You couldn’t ask for more from your first game.”
Maurer said his favorite experience off the field has been flying on the team’s charter plane.
“It’s nice to have all that extra space around you,” he said. “It sure beats taking those long bus rides everywhere.”
• Mariners manager Eric Wedge went with a mostly right-handed batting order Wednesday against left-hander Tommy Milone, even though the southpaw historically has better numbers versus right-handed hitters than left-handed ones. Wedge said the move was primarily to give playing time to position players who had not gotten in a game since Saturday’s exhibition in Salt Lake City. Bay started in left field and right-handed hitting Robert Andino was at second base while left-handed hitting Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders were the designated sitters.
• All four of the Mariners’ minor-league affiliates begin the season Thursday — Class AAA Tacoma, AA Jackson, High-A High Desert and A Clinton. The Rainiers open the season at Fresno and will return home after an eight-game trip on April 12.