By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
CINCINNATI — Justin Smoak watched Bronson Arroyo throw him pitches that might not have broke a pane of glass, including one that struck him out looking in the first inning with a runner on second. The pitch registered 71 mph on the radar gun at Great American Ball Park.
“That one looked liked it came out of the sky,” Smoak said.
Smoak was more than pleased to see something different in his second at-bat with a runner on first.
Arroyo threw him an 87 mph sinking fastball away and Smoak jumped on it, going with the pitch and driving a two-run, opposite field homer over the wall in left field.
“I was just trying to get it in the air here,” he said. “I got a pitch out over the plate and I put a pretty good swing on it to get it out of here.”
For Smoak, hitting a ball hard to the opposite field is a good sign that he’s seeing the ball and not trying to do too much with it.
“The way he threw to me in the first at-bat — a lot of offspeed stuff — I was just trying to let the ball get to me and think up the middle and the other way,” he said. “I got a fastball on the outside corner and didn’t miss it.”
Since returning from the disabled list because of an oblique strain, Smoak is hitting .308 (16-for-52) with two doubles, four homers and seven RBI.
“I felt good the last couple weeks,” he said. “I feel great up there. I’m just not getting it done when it counts.”
When it counts is with runners in scoring position. Smoak hasn’t been good in that situation this season, hitting .130 (6-for-46). It’s why he has just 15 RBI on the season.
“It’s been dreadful,” he said. “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.”
Smoak admits that sometimes the moment and the desire to produce with runners on base overtakes him and his approach.
“The good ones don’t do that,” he said. “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.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge is still liking the progress he’s seen from his first baseman.
“To drive the ball the other way like that and he just missed two other hits tonight,” Wedge said. “He hit the ball hard two other times. He drove the ball right handed a couple times, albeit foul, but he was still on it.”
A hobbled homer
Nick Franklin’s sore right knee isn’t 100 percent, but that didn’t keep him out of the Mariners lineup and producing on the field. Spurred on by some ribbing from his teammates about being knocked low by a bunt to his knee, Franklin declared himself ready to play on Sunday after doing some pregame work to get the swollen and stiff knee loosened up.
“That’s why you work hard and wait for the lineup to try to get him in there because something like that might happen,” Wedge said. “Sometimes it’s a good thing when the guys give you a hard time.”
Franklin set the tone by belting a solo home run to right field off of Arroyo in the first inning.
“I was just looking for a good pitch to hit,” he said. “Down two strikes, I was just trying to make contact and square it up the best I can.”
Franklin played the whole game. And while there was a slight limp in his gait, he still made every play in the field.
“It’s doing OK,” he said. “It’s workable, and hopefully it will get better in the next few days. Honestly, I felt it the entire time.”
Mariners trainer Rick Griffin had Franklin doing exercises in between innings.
“That way I could still keep it loose,” Franklin said. “In between innings, I’d have a weight, just kind of stretching it out, so that it doesn’t tighten up.”