When the Mariners traded Cliff Lee to the Rangers last season, one of the key young players sent to Seattle in the deal was slugger Justin Smoak. A switch-hitting first baseman, Smoak was a first-round selection in the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft. He is now in his first full season with the Mariners, and the 23-year-old leads his club in RBIs with 43 and is tied for the team lead with 12 homers. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder from South Carolina recently answered questions from MLBPLAYERS.com:
07/15/2011 7:22 PM ET
Smoak, M's looking for more offense
Mariners first baseman expects big things in second half
By Jeff Moeller / MLBPLAYERS.com
MLBPLAYERS.com: What are your goals and the goals of your club in the second half of the season?
Justin Smoak: As a team, I think we just want to put some more runs up on the board. If we do that, I believe we have a chance to win every night. It has been tough for us so far offensively, but in the second half, hopefully, we can get some things going and get into a good rhythm.
MLBPLAYERS.com: How do you evaluate your first-half performance?
Smoak: I think it was good early on, and it has been more of a struggle of late. Still, I continue to work hard and keep grinding it out. It is about trying to find a way to help put runs on the board for these guys.
MLBPLAYERS.com: When things aren't going your way, do you believe that it is just a matter of time before things work out because you put in the extra work?
Smoak: I look at the positives first, and a positive has been how I have swung the bat from the right side. From the left side I have been more up and down, up and down, up and down. Last year it was totally the opposite, so it is just one of those things where, hopefully, it is just a matter of time as to when things will get better because I am putting the work in.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Do you feel like you have a good routine for working on your swing from both sides of the plate?
Smoak: Early on in my career I thought I had a pretty good routine going. I still feel like I have a good routine. It is about putting in the same amount of work on one side as you do from the other side. A lot of adjusting that needs to take place, but I guess I can only blame myself for being a switch-hitter.
MLBPLAYERS.com: How do you evaluate your club's first-half performance?
Smoak: Our starting pitching and our bullpen have given us a chance to win every day. You can't really ask for much more than that. If we would have put more runs on the board, we would have won a lot more games. We had a stretch there for a week or so when won a lot of games, and lately there have been a lot of games where we have put up one, two or three runs. Change that to four or five runs a game, and we'd probably have 15 more wins. That is how good our pitching staff has been.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Last year you played for two Triple-A clubs and for both Seattle and Texas. Do you like the stability you have enjoyed this year compared to last year?
Smoak: It has been a lot better. Last year was a whirlwind for me and for my family. Right now, it is good to know that we are going to be in Seattle and, hopefully, we are going to be here for a long time. It is good to have that comfort.
MLBPLAYERS.com: What is the biggest difference between playing home games in Texas versus Seattle?
Smoak: Safeco is a big yard, and the ball flies in Texas. It is my focus to go out there and do what I can do to help the team win.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Your numbers are slightly better than last year's numbers in the same number of games played. Do you feel like you are a better player this year?
Smoak: Yes, I do. I feel like I know a little bit more of what to expect, which is good. At the same time, I wish I would feel as good at the plate left-handed as I do right-handed. That has been my struggle so far, that has been my inconsistency. So, I just need to keep working hard to get better every day.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Does it rain as much in Seattle as people say?
Smoak: It rained a lot early on in the season, for sure. Being from the Southeast, it is really different for me to go to the Pacific Northwest. It rained a lot and it was cold a lot. It is just starting to warm up now, which is good.
MLBPLAYERS.com: How do you like living in the Pacific Northwest on the whole?
Smoak: I am an outdoors guy to begin with. I love to hunt and fish. That is what I do back home in the offseason. To move so far away for six months out of the year, it is different, but it is something that I am adjusting to. I like it. I just hope we get a little more sunshine soon, but it has been good so far.
MLBPLAYERS.com: You are from Goose Creek, S.C., and after each home run you hit one of the Seattle announcers accompanies his home run call with "The Freak from Goose Creek." Do you like that?
Smoak: That is what they say. I guess it is OK. I don't think about it too much, to be honest. Hopefully, he will be saying it a lot more in the second half.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Matt Wieters is from your hometown and he, of course, was recently named to the American League All-Star roster. How excited were you for him?
Smoak: It was awesome for him. We grew up together playing high school baseball. He is a great catcher, a great baseball player, and it is a great honor for him. I could not be happier for a guy.
Jeff Moeller is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.