By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Maybe it was fitting that Justin Smoak hit the decisive home run batting from the right side of the plate in the Mariners’ 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.
Before the final road game of the season at Angels Stadium, Mariners manager Eric Wedge was asked about Smoak’s switch-hitting struggles.
“It’s something that wasn’t even an issue prior to this year,” Wedge said. “I want to make sure we don’t overreact to that. A switch-hitting first baseman with some power, and he does have power from both sides — that’s rare, especially with the way he can play first base. You’ve got to let him continue to go on with it. It’s not a question of bat speed or ability, he just has fundamental things he’s gotten himself into a funk with.”
Smoak, who hit seven homers right-handed last season, came into the game hitting just .190 (26-for-137) from the right side with just six doubles and six RBI. His two-run home run on Sunday off of Angels starter C.J. Wilson broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning.
The bullpen only allowed one score after that, a solo home run by Kole Calhoun off of Yoervis Medina in the eighth inning. Danny Farquhar worked a scoreless ninth, despite allowing a hit, to notch his 15th save.
It was a good outing for the Seattle bullpen, which has endured its share of poor performances this season. The group of Oliver Perez, who got the win in relief, Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, Medina and Farquhar held the Angels to just the one run on four hits.
“I thought Perez set the tone,” Wedge said. “We had to use a lot of different guys, most of who are tired and at the end of their rope. But they sucked it up in a tight bullpen.”
The extended work was due to the short and pitch-filled return of Felix Hernandez to the mound. After sitting out since Sept. 2 with a strained oblique, Hernandez returned with plenty of velocity, but not pinpoint command.
How good was his stuff? He struck out 10 batters in four innings. He became the first pitcher in Major League Baseball history to strike out 10 batters in a start totaling four innings or less. It was also the 26th time in his career he struck out 10 or more hitters in a game.
With 92 pitches after four innings, Wedge couldn’t put Hernandez out there for another inning, but decided that the right-hander would start one more game this season on Friday night in Seattle.
“I made sure I told him that as I was taking him out of the game so he didn’t bite my head off,” Wedge said. “So we’re OK. He should start one more time.”
Hernandez was pleased. He’s thrown 198 2⁄3 innings this season, and pitching in Seattle will put him over the 200 inning mark.
“I want to do that every year, get 200 or more,” he said.
And he will do it at home in front of Mariners fans.
“I think it’s fan appreciation night,” he said. “That will be good for me.”