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Smoak not smokin’

Sun., July 11, 2010

Promising prospect struggles in bigs

SEATTLE – At the rate the Mariners have produced runs this year, they’ll score 550 over the 162-game season. To put that in perspective, it would be a 34-year franchise low excluding strike years, although even the 1994 team scored more runs in a season shortened to 112 games.

So now that Justin Smoak is in uniform after the Mariners’ trade Friday that sent Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers, how soon can he become the home-run-hitting monster the M’s need so badly?

“I caution it a little bit, just for the fact that I was over in Texas when Texeira came up the first time,” said Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu, who was the Rangers’ bench coach in 2003 when Mark Texeira was a rookie. “I think he’s going through that, too.”

Smoak has been compared with Texeira, the Rangers’ 2001 first-round draft pick and now a power-hitting force with the New York Yankees, but so far his first major league season has been a struggle.

Smoak, who started at first base and batted sixth Saturday night in his Mariners debut, was hitting .209 with eight home runs and 34 runs batted in. He went 0 for 4 in his M’s debut, striking out three times, with his average dropping to .205.

A switch-hitter, he has struggled mightily as a right-handed hitter, batting .139.

“With the adjustment period with the trade and everything else, there’s a lot of things that we’re going to monitor,” Wakamatsu said. “But the rest is just (a matter of) playing him every day, getting him comfortable and letting him embrace being a Seattle Mariner.”

Wakamatsu said he spoke with some Rangers, including veteran Michael Young, to get a feel for Smoak before he arrived Saturday.

“Michael texted me back and said, ‘You’ve got a good one here. You got a guy who’s got a chance to be special for a long time,’ ” Wakamatsu said.

Smoak played only 135 minor league games before the Rangers called him up this year. He batted .293 with 17 homers and 68 RBIs in 492 minor league at-bats.


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