Justin Smoak had plenty of time to study the opposing pitcher during a 10-pitch at-bat in the fourth inning.
Smoak had patiently waited out Los Angeles Angels starter Jered Weaver in that marathon duel Saturday night before lining a single for the game’s only run of the opening five frames. But then came the sixth, when Smoak jumped on a first-pitch fastball from Weaver and drove it over the center-field fence for a three-run homer in a 6-0 win by the Mariners.
In a festive home clubhouse afterward, Smoak revealed that he had learned enough in the 10 prior Weaver pitches to do plenty of damage with the next one he saw — in the sixth.
“The first two at-bats, he threw me a bunch of off-speed,’’ Smoak said. “So, I was thinking he was going to try to sneak a fastball in there first pitch. And I was able to put a good swing on it.’’
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And thus continues the evolving growth process of Smoak, a hitter who drove in the first four runs of this game and looks increasingly like the guy the Mariners hoped they were trading for in 2010. His home run extended to 21 games his team’s franchise-record streak with at least one home run.
It also helped the Mariners move to one victory of securing their first series sweep of the season. A crowd of 32,458 at Safeco Field saw the Mariners knock Angels ace Weaver from the game after just 52
They also saw Felix Hernandez toss eight scoreless innings en route to his 10th victory of the season. That’s the most wins ever by Hernandez before the All-Star break and helped him exact some revenge on an Angels team that scored seven runs off him in Anaheim last month to eventually erase an 8-1 deficit and hand the Mariners a devastating loss.
“It was always on my mind,’’ Hernandez said of that game. “I’ll never forget that.’’
He took some lessons away from that as well.
“You can’t fall behind against these guys,’’ Hernandez said. “It’s a pretty good lineup, so I tried to have a good fastball today and throw it for a strike and just mix in my breaking balls.’’
Hernandez stayed aggressive all night, had no walks and struck out four. He overcame a Mike Trout triple in the third inning of a still-scoreless game by notching his second strikeout of the night on Albert Pujols.
The Mariners opened the scoring the following inning off Weaver when Kendrys Morales and Kyle Seager lined consecutive two-out singles. Smoak hit a single as well after that and the Mariners ill-advisedly waved Morales around third to test the arm of right fielder Josh Hamilton.
The throw by Hamilton arrived a good 15 feet ahead of Morales – who actually slowed to a near-stop halfway home – but then it managed to skip by the glove of catcher Hank Conger. An error was initially charged to Conger, but later overturned by the official scorer, leaving Smoak with a run batted in.
The Mariners have averaged six runs per game in July and now have 44 in the first six games of this homestand.
“When guys are having good at-bats and making pitchers throw a lot of pitches, 1-through-9, you’re going to get pitches out over the plate to hit,’’ Smoak said. “He’s going to make mistakes. He’s going to get tired out there. And I think that’s what you’re seeing from everybody. Everybody is having good at-bats, seeing a lot of pitches and we’re getting the starter out of there early in the game.’’
Mariners manager Eric Wedge lauded the improvement shown by Smoak, now hitting .266 with eight home runs and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .790. But the Mariners – who scored two more runs in the seventh on a wild pitch and a Raul Ibanez single – also spread 11 hits across the lineup on a night the first two hitters in the order were blanked.
“It’s not just Smoak, there are other guys that are doing it, too,’’ Wedge said. “Guys that are right in the middle of figuring things out. So, when you string that together up and down the lineup, it’s a difference maker for you.’’
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners