By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There may be no one in the Seattle Mariners organization who believes more in Justin Smoak than his manager, but on Wednesday Eric Wedge changed Smoak’s role.
Smoak, who had started as the cleanup hitter 21 times this season, was dropped from fourth to seventh in the lineup.
And he’s likely to stay there a while.
“I’ve always been one of his biggest fans, and I believe he’ll get it done,” Wedge said. “Right now, he’s not getting it done — and we’re in the business of winning games.
“We’re going to leave him down in the lineup, take some of the pressure off him.”
Smoak, the key player acquired in the 2010 Cliff Lee trade with the Rangers, is batting .190 with three home runs and nine RBI this year. His career batting average coming into the season, in 223 big-league games, was .223.
“Smoak works hard, right now he’s battling inconsistency,” Wedge said. “You see something positive, but it changes at-bat to at-bat, sometimes swing to swing.
“I put Alex Liddi at first base today, let Justin be our designated hitter. That’s just for today.”
Jesus Montero started behind the plate for two consecutive games — a first as a Seattle Mariner. In the day game today, John Jaso will catch for the first time in 2012.
Having carried three catchers all year, the Mariners now only have those two healthy, so on Wednesday Wedge “volunteered” an emergency third-string catcher.
“If I DH Montero or pinch hit for him — and I will — all we have is one catcher, and if something happens it’s not good,” Wedge said. “I looked around and picked Munenori. He’d do anything we asked.”
Though he’d never caught before, Kawasaki — all 5-foot-10, 165 pounds of him — put on the gear and caught coach Jeff Datz in the bullpen before the game.
“He’s more than willing and able to do it,” Wedge said. “Brendan Ryan said he caught in high school and he volunteered. He said he was looking forward to calling a game.
“That’s in my head now,” Wedge said, laughing.
Here’s a stat that may surprise you: Mariners catchers Montero and Miguel Olivo lead the American League in home runs at the position with six. Both have three homers while catching in 2012. … When Ichiro Suzuki matched Ozzie Smith with 2,460 hits Tuesday, he climbed into a tie for 104th place all-time. If you’d like an impressive target, here’s one: Frank Thomas had 2,468 hits. When Suzuki passes him, he will be 99th on baseball’s all-time hit list. … Promotion Alert! The Mariners will give away 20,000 ‘Smoak-a-motive’ train cars at Safeco Field Friday. On Saturday, all kids 14-and-younger will get Dustin Ackley T-shirts. … For those who hadn’t kept track, that three-hit loss to Tampa on Tuesday marked the 24th time in Seattle history the team had limited the opposition to three hits or less — and lost. … Expect Mike Carp to start today.