BY Art Thiel 07:22PM 07/15/2012

Thiel: Smoak needs time away from MLB pressure

Mariners finished 4-0 loss to Texas with four hitters below .200, the latest being Justin Smoak, who needs to get away from all the helpful advice with a trip to Tacoma.

Justin Smoak has the second-lowest batting average among American League regulars. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

For a decade, Mariners management has been asking a lot of its fan base. Now they have upped the ante — in so many words, they are asking customers to squint as hard as manager Eric Wedge to find something worthy.

Has a fan base ever gone on the disabled list from pulled facial muscles?

After the predictable shutout loss Sunday to Rangers’ All-Star lefty Matt Harrison, who is now 9-1 against Seattle and is about to enter the company of Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez as Mariners-killers, Wedge insisted before and after the 4-0 defeat that his club was closer.

“It felt like it was different,” said Wedge, comparing the five-hit shutout with other clobberings Harrison has delivered. “We hit the ball hard . . . we will break through this.”

Hitting the ball hard. Making good outs. Having better batting practices.

Isn’t that what is said in Little League, or high school?

Yes, they had a nice little four-run, two-hit first inning Saturday night against Rangers ace Yu Darvish. But in the other 26 innings over three weekend games against the Rangers, they had five runs.

Hardly surprising. Hardly worth the energy of a squint.

The lineup against Harrison and the Rangers included three batters hitting below .200 — third baseman Chone Figgins (.186), catcher Miguel Olivo (.198) and shortstop Brendan Ryan (.182), who unexpectedly found himself hitting leadoff, mostly because he was right-handed and ambulatory.

Team Mendoza.

By game’s end, the trio was joined by first baseman Justin Smoak, news as brutal as it was unsurprising. The other three guys are over 30 and not in the long-term plans. Smoak is 25, and getting worse.

After an 0-for-4 Sunday, Smoak went from .201 to .199, the second-worst batting average in the American League among regulars (minimum 245 at bats), ahead of only Carlos Pena of Tampa (.196). But Pena has him by nearly 100 points in OPS (.692 to .593).

In partial defense of his futility, often cited is Smoak’s limited time in the minors (773 plate appearances) before he became a regular. For comparison purposes, Joey Votto had 2,500 at bats and 3,000 plate appearances in the minor leagues before he made it big with the Cincinnati Reds in 2008 at 25. He was the National League’s MVP in 2010 and is now a three-time All-Star.

Smoak, who went to college for three years at South Carolina, could use the defense of relative newness to wooden bats. He declines.

“It comes down to the same thing — get a good pitch to hit and square it up,” he said Sunday. “Nothing that different. Being a switch hitter, you’ve got to find that time on both sides of the plate to work.”

Smoak has been switch-hitting since after his freshman year in high school, and according to Wedge, there is no plan to return him to one side. He came in to the game hitting .177 right-handed, .212 from the left.

“No, not at all,” Wedge said. “No question in my mind he’s a switch-hitter. When he gets it, he’s going to do it from both sides.”

Wedge didn’t say “if,” but when. It hasn’t happened in more than 1,200 major league at-bats.

“I feel like we’ve had a lot of conversations with him,” Wedge said pre-game. “Like we said with (second baseman Dustin Ackley, also struggling at .230), we’re not far along, but not too far away.

“Obviously,  we’ve got to see more. He’s still working to get that consistent feel (at the plate). His batting practices are a lot better. That’s definitely a good indicator. (Saturday) he was off. Friday, he looked like he was on his way. Let’s see what it is today — two out of three is a good sign.”

Sunday he was off again. Bad sign. That’s where the squint is deployed, looking for progress. Smoak knows it.

“I felt lot better today, but it’s a matter of coming through when game’s on the line,” he said. “That’s something I haven’t done at all. In the minors, I didn’t have anything as drastic as it is now.”

Smoak does admit to being a little overwhelmed with all the advice he’s getting.

“No doubt — everyone wants success, and when things aren’t going good, everyone wants to help you out,” he said. “Sometimes it works, some has to go in one ear and out the other. I’ve done a lot of listening, now it’s time to show it on the field.

“You don’t want to keep hearing the same things, day in and day out. It’s one of those things you gotta get through.”

The guess is here he would benefit from the relative quiet of time in AAA Tacoma. The indignity of a temporary demotion would quickly be forgotten if it helps cure what ails him. At the moment, it really doesn’t matter who replaces him on the major league roster, because Seattle is not going anywhere, nor showcasing him for a trade. Hell, put Chone Figgins at first.

Being what amounts to the worst regular hitter in the league is not doing him or the Mariners any service. At the moment, he’s not worth a squint from anyone.


YourThoughts

  • Will

    Let’s see … all the Mariners who need, “time away from MLB pressure” … who’s left?  The grounds crew? Peanut vendors?

    There’s always video replays of Griffey, Randy and Edgar.

    • Artthiel

       It’s the pressure from his bosses to justify his trade value. They don’t say so, but they don’t have to for Smoak to feel it. He may never be ready to handle MLB, but he needs more rope to find out.  

  • Will

    Let’s see … all the Mariners who need, “time away from MLB pressure” … who’s left?  The grounds crew? Peanut vendors?

    There’s always video replays of Griffey, Randy and Edgar.

    • Artthiel

       It’s the pressure from his bosses to justify his trade value. They don’t say so, but they don’t have to for Smoak to feel it. He may never be ready to handle MLB, but he needs more rope to find out.  

  • Old Goat

    Swap the entire team with the Rainiers. After all losing is losing no matter who it is. Of course as has been the case for far too long the Mariners have taken it to a new level and no matter what moves are made the players seem interchangeable with little or no difference. The only way for any of these guys to improve their game is to trade them as has been proven over and over. Just do an accounting of former Ms as playoff contenders and all stars.    

    • Artthiel

       Old story, Old Goat. These are the Rainiers, just better paid. Might as well wait them out.

  • Old Goat

    Swap the entire team with the Rainiers. After all losing is losing no matter who it is. Of course as has been the case for far too long the Mariners have taken it to a new level and no matter what moves are made the players seem interchangeable with little or no difference. The only way for any of these guys to improve their game is to trade them as has been proven over and over. Just do an accounting of former Ms as playoff contenders and all stars.    

    • Artthiel

       Old story, Old Goat. These are the Rainiers, just better paid. Might as well wait them out.

  • Tim M.

     Thanks for the comic relief Art.  Sad to say, but you are my only therapy in a most dismal Seattle sports landscape.  Pulled facial muscles?  I guess that explains my premature aging over the last 30 years. 

    • Artthiel

       Need to find a hobby, Tim. How about residential real estate? Hmm, no. How about journalism? Oooh, bad.

      I like Romney’s idea of retroactive retirement. Let’s all retroactively retire to 2001 and have our Groundhog Days there.

      • Tim M.

         The retirement would be effective just after the Cleveland series and before they choked against the Yanks…yeah I do need a new hobby, damn it!   My face hurts.

  • Tim M.

     Thanks for the comic relief Art.  Sad to say, but you are my only therapy in a most dismal Seattle sports landscape.  Pulled facial muscles?  I guess that explains my premature aging over the last 30 years. 

    • Artthiel

       Need to find a hobby, Tim. How about residential real estate? Hmm, no. How about journalism? Oooh, bad.

      I like Romney’s idea of retroactive retirement. Let’s all retroactively retire to 2001 and have our Groundhog Days there.

      • Tim M.

         The retirement would be effective just after the Cleveland series and before they choked against the Yanks…yeah I do need a new hobby, damn it!   My face hurts.

  • Tian Biao

    But . . . Smoak has the best name on the team. Smoak-a-motive, Smoak and Mirrors, Smoak Bomb, etc. I suppose it is time for a new one: Smoak out.

    • Artthiel

      Good thing they unloaded the Smoakamotive before derailment.

  • Tian Biao

    But . . . Smoak has the best name on the team. Smoak-a-motive, Smoak and Mirrors, Smoak Bomb, etc. I suppose it is time for a new one: Smoak out.

    • Artthiel

      Good thing they unloaded the Smoakamotive before derailment.

  • Trygvesture

    Hey Art– Doesn’t the strange, Invasion of the Body Snatchers behavior of Wedge and Z start to paint a picture? I  mean, REALLY… who can even begin to think their mouths don’t have puppet strings directly to Chuck’s office? Nobody in their right baseball mind would spew the nonsense they do, not even Maury on a really crazy day. 
    Somethin’s up. 
    No changes after the break? Who vetoed that? Wedge and Z both said it was coming — changes at the break.It’s Bizarroland. It doesn’t seem to make business sense anymore than it makes baseball sense unless they’re grooming the books for a sale by keeping their overhead and standings low enough to get the revenue sharing check, al la Pittsburgh — and then the bottom line looks ok for sale? The behavior is too off-the-planet to make sense. H&C haven’t been heard from nor seen, and  not seen in the same room as The Joker, either… secret identities? 
    What do they DO all day? Really– they don’t do anything baseball-related, right? Nor even PR/community boosting, certainly. Are they bunkered up somewhere? What??

    • Artthiel

       The criticism has bunkered them. Rare are their appearances. I don’t think any sale is imminent. The biggest deal may be giving Ichiro a two-year extension. And Wedge and Z are stuck trying to stay positive, but putting too much pressure on the players simply because the players as a group haven’t matured into guys who can carry a team. Truly a a bad roster.

      • Trygvesture

        (Hello Dr Freud– we have a slip here! ) 

         Love the typo: AA.Even a notch down from AAA…
        But– what DID happen to the changes-at-the-break intimations? Did they (W/Z) just determine the whole thing is tanked so badly it makes no sense to make the effort to lobby for anything that might be good baseball management anymore?

        I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to actually see and meet with those FO clowns– a new torture that should be outlawed. 

    • Jamo57

      What have they been doing?   Writing editorials under the alias of ‘Seattle Times Editorial Board’.   Sometimes the truth hides in plain sight.

  • Trygvesture

    Hey Art– Doesn’t the strange, Invasion of the Body Snatchers behavior of Wedge and Z start to paint a picture? I  mean, REALLY… who can even begin to think their mouths don’t have puppet strings directly to Chuck’s office? Nobody in their right baseball mind would spew the nonsense they do, not even Maury on a really crazy day. 
    Somethin’s up. 
    No changes after the break? Who vetoed that? Wedge and Z both said it was coming — changes at the break.It’s Bizarroland. It doesn’t seem to make business sense anymore than it makes baseball sense unless they’re grooming the books for a sale by keeping their overhead and standings low enough to get the revenue sharing check, al la Pittsburgh — and then the bottom line looks ok for sale? The behavior is too off-the-planet to make sense. H&C haven’t been heard from nor seen, and  not seen in the same room as The Joker, either… secret identities? 
    What do they DO all day? Really– they don’t do anything baseball-related, right? Nor even PR/community boosting, certainly. Are they bunkered up somewhere? What??

    • Artthiel

       The criticism has bunkered them. Rare are their appearances. I don’t think any sale is imminent. The biggest deal may be giving Ichiro a two-year extension. And Wedge and Z are stuck trying to stay positive, but putting too much pressure on the players simply because the players as a group haven’t matured into guys who can carry a team. Truly a a bad roster.

      • Trygvesture

        (Hello Dr Freud– we have a slip here! ) 

         Love the typo: AA.Even a notch down from AAA…
        But– what DID happen to the changes-at-the-break intimations? Did they (W/Z) just determine the whole thing is tanked so badly it makes no sense to make the effort to lobby for anything that might be good baseball management anymore?

        I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to actually see and meet with those FO clowns– a new torture that should be outlawed. 

    • Jamo57

      What have they been doing?   Writing editorials under the alias of ‘Seattle Times Editorial Board’.   Sometimes the truth hides in plain sight.

  • Ashland OR

    The Peanut Guy woulda been a total All Star on this team. They woulda peeled off the vendor vest and suited him up right away. The FO woulda let it happen– no salary burden. Coulda been the salvation of the season.

  • Ashland OR

    The Peanut Guy woulda been a total All Star on this team. They woulda peeled off the vendor vest and suited him up right away. The FO woulda let it happen– no salary burden. Coulda been the salvation of the season.

  • One174

    Smoak will go down to Tacoma and whack the ball all over the place. Then he will come back up and resume hitting .200. 

  • One174

    Smoak will go down to Tacoma and whack the ball all over the place. Then he will come back up and resume hitting .200. 

  • jafabian

    Justin needs to quit trying to be the next Prince Fielder and just go out and do what made him such a promising prospect to begin with.  Don’t emulate Fielder but rather (predictable but I’ll take it) John Olerun where he just hits the ball and fields well.  It isn’t necessary at this point to bring in the power numbers.

  • jafabian

    Justin needs to quit trying to be the next Prince Fielder and just go out and do what made him such a promising prospect to begin with.  Don’t emulate Fielder but rather (predictable but I’ll take it) John Olerun where he just hits the ball and fields well.  It isn’t necessary at this point to bring in the power numbers.