CINCINNATI – Even in the midst of a hitting surge and on the occasion of a game-winning home run, Justin Smoak is fully aware what has been missing from his game.
“I think No. 1 for me is runners in scoring position,” he said. “It’s been dreadful. I feel great at the plate, but I just haven’t got it done when it counts. If you keep squaring balls up, the homers are going to come, the doubles are going to come, but it’s about getting those guys across home plate.”
The Mariners are the worst in baseball at hitting with men in scoring position, with a .222 average, so their problems are hardly limited to Smoak.
But he realizes that to be the kind of run producer the Mariners seek from their first baseman, he needs to improve on his .130 average (6 for 46) with runners in scoring position. That’s the main reason Smoak, with 206 at-bats, has just 15 runs batted in, one fewer than Brendan Ryan. Nick Franklin has 18 RBI in 136 at-bats.
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Smoak had one opportunity with men in scoring position Sunday against the Reds, striking out with two aboard in the first inning. His two-run home run, the margin of victory, came with a runner on first base in the third, so it didn’t improve his RISP statistics.
Overall, Smoak is heading in the right direction. He entered the game with a .313 average, .400 on-base percentage and .542 slugging percentage in 14 games since coming off the disabled list for a strained oblique.
Asked if he was trying too hard in clutch situations, Smoak replied, “The good ones don’t. You see Raul (Ibanez) go up there, he’s so relaxed every pitch and he gets a good pitch to hit and tries not to miss it. I feel like I just get a little antsy sometimes. It’s part of it. I think I want it too much.”
He added, “I’ve felt good the last couple weeks. I feel great up there; I’m just not getting it done when it counts.”
• Michael Morse, on the DL with a quadriceps injury, will likely begin a rehab assignment with Tacoma at midweek. Manager Eric Wedge said Morse has been feeling “a bit sore” from running and will be given a couple of days off before heading out.
• Wedge said he was disappointed that neither reliever Oliver Perez nor Ibanez were included on the final vote for the All-Star team.
“Of course, I’m a little biased, but I’d have liked to have seen them both on there,” he said. “I think they’re both great stories, and not only that, they’re both producers on the field. Oliver’s in his second career, and I think he has been as good as any left-hander in the league in that role. With what Raul’s done to be in such great shape … have that translate on the field this year at his age, it’s a tremendous accomplishment.”
• The M’s got their first road victory on a Sunday this season.