By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
ATLANTA — Remember when the Mariners appeared overloaded with first basemen? Justin Smoak, Corey Hart and Logan Morrison? The concern throughout spring training was how to find playing time for all of them.
Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon at Turner Field.
The Mariners started veteran utilityman Willie Bloomquist at first base.
“The manager (in Seattle) was Bob Melvin,” Bloomquist noted, “the last time I started at first.”
Right. Sept. 30, 2004. At Oakland.
“There are a lot of little things you don’t think about until you’re playing there,” Bloomquist said. “It’s those in-between plays that you don’t recognize. If there’s a ball to my right, do I go after it or do I go to the bag? Those sort of things. To be honest, there are times when I have to remind myself, ‘You’ve got to cover the bag on any ball anywhere in the infield.’ That seems juvenile, but I’m not used to having to run to the bag if the ball’s not hit to me unless it’s a double play.”
So why was Bloomquist at first?
Smoak is battling a sore left quadriceps muscle and a deepening slump. Hart and Morrison are on the disabled list, although Morrison is playing at Class AAA Tacoma on a rehab assignment.
Even so, before Wednesday, Bloomquist hadn’t played the position since doing so for a few innings in 2010 while a member of the Kansas City Royals.
“Aw, (heck),” manager Lloyd McClendon reasoned. “Catch the ball and run to the base.”
It went well. Bloomquist handled 10 defensive chances with no problems before Smoak entered the game as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning of a 2-0 victory.
“Seag (third baseman Kyle Seager) gave me a nice little sinker on one,” Bloomquist said. “But most of the throws were up here (chest high). It’s kind of fun to play something different.”
It figures to be a one-day move.
Smoak is expected to start Friday when the Mariners, after an open date, begin a four-game series at Tampa Bay
“He’s probably a little fatigued,” McClendon said of Smoak. “Instead of one day, we’ll give him two days (off). I think fatigue has something to do with (his slump). This gives us a chance to get him fresher.
“Hopefully, that will quicken his bat up.”