If Justin Smoak appears more comfortable in the batter’s box these days it’s because, well, he is.
The Mariners first baseman carried six-game hitting streak into Thursday night’s home game against the Royals, with a .348 batting average and a 1.016 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in that stretch. He also drove in seven runs over those six games, giving him a team-best 22 runs batted in.
More telling, Smoak has driven in 17 runs with two outs — more than anyone in the majors. (The White Sox’s Jose Abreu entered Thursday second in that category, with 14 two-out RBI.)
“Positive results breed confidence, and I think he’s a confident hitter right now,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I think he’s starting to understand that (with) a real good bat-path you can be successful, even against some real good pitchers.
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“Listen, he’s working hard at it. It’s not a completed project yet, but I would certainly give him an ‘A’ for effort. He’s going at it every day.”
The Mariners finished 7-2 on their nine-game trip, with Smoak driving in the winning run with two outs in the 10th inning in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader at Oakland.
After the seventh inning, the switch-hitting Smoak is hitting .350 (14 for 40) with four home runs, four doubles and 13 RBI.
“When you’re comfortable in the box, good things are going to happen. I’ve felt comfortable the last couple days, but there’s still more room for improvement,” said Smoak, who entered Thursday hitting .252 overall with a .745 OPS. “I’m still chasing a little too much, but at the same time I feel like I’m putting better swings on pitches, and balls are falling in now. I’m having decent at-bats. It’s just a matter of keep working and making sure I’m doing what I need to do.”
Paxton, Walker to throw in bullpen
James Paxton and Taijuan Walker are stepping back on the mound.
The bullpen mound, that is.
For the first time since he was placed on the disabled list with a lat strain on April 9, Paxton is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday.
Walker (shoulder impingement) is scheduled to do the same on Sunday, the first time he has done so since he was shut down in mid-April.
The Mariners’ young pitchers have been playing catch nearly every day for almost two weeks. The Mariners hope to have them back in the Seattle rotation by early June.
“Things have been going good. Really good so far,” Walker said after playing catch from about 90 feet Thursday. His last 10 throws were pitches off flat ground. “This time it feels different. Everything’s been going smooth.”
Paxton, the big left-hander who was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two April starts, said his progress has been “all positive” the past couple weeks.
“Everything’s been feeling great,” Paxton said. “No pain back there. Feeling strong, so I’m going to be getting on the mound tomorrow to throw some pitches.”