SEATTLE -- Young first baseman Justin Smoak is among several hitters the Mariners need to get on track if they hope to improve their offensive production, but manager Eric Wedge said the big man from South Carolina is adjusting to how pitchers are changing things up on him now that he's becoming more established.
Smoak, riding an 0-for-13 streak heading into Tuesday's game, has seen his average slip to .251. But he still leads the Mariners in RBIs with 40 and is tied with Miguel Olivo for the home run lead with 12 from his new cleanup spot.
"I think with Smoaker, he's done a very good job for a first full-year guy in the big leagues," Wedge said. "He's been thrown right in the middle of it and he's had some big hits and some stretches of consistency, but also some inconsistency, which is what you'd expect from a first-year guy.
"But the thing I like about Smoak is when he goes up there, you feel like he's giving himself a chance each time. I think he's right now working to battle some adjustments the league is making to him, which is part of it. It's a constant back and forth. I think he's going to handle that fine."
Both Mariners catchers banged up in loss
SEATTLE -- In less than one hour, the Mariners catcher count went from two to zero.
Starting catcher Miguel Olivo was taken out in the fourth inning of Tuesday's 5-4 loss to Atlanta due to cramps in his right hamstring. He was hydrated and treated in the clubhouse and is being re-evaluated. His status for Wednesday's 12:40 p.m. PT game against the Braves is unknown.
Backup catcher Chris Gimenez took over behind the plate, but he caught the injury bug shortly thereafter, straining his oblique in the fifth inning and later in the seventh inning could not even swing the bat.
But Olivo and Gimenez are the only catchers on the roster, so Gimenez was forced to fight through the pain and stay in the game.
Seattle manager Eric Wedge said that the team would take some time late Tuesday night to assess both injuries and figure out if a move needs to be made. Triple-A Tacoma catcher Josh Bard missed his third consecutive game Tuesday in Las Vegas with a toe problem and Jose Yepez started in his place.
With Seattle down, 5-4, and runners on first and second and two out in the bottom of the seventh, Gimenez attempted to bunt twice and then looked at strike three, unable to swing because of the strained oblique.
"I tell you what, Chris really sucked it up," Wedge said. "We had to keep him back there because we needed a catcher.
"In that situation there, we have him try to bunt for a hit. It was either two shots to get a bunt for a hit, otherwise he had to take it like a man and just hope that he walked him."
Gimenez fought through the pain and ended up making an impressive defensive play in the eighth inning. Chipper Jones flied out to Ichiro Suzuki, who then nailed Jason Heyward at the plate for the third out with Gimenez applying the tag.
"He really sucked it up on that throw from Ichiro," Wedge said. "If you saw his face, he was wincing pretty bad, so it was a warrior effort on his part just to get through that game for us."
It is unclear when Olivo was hurt. He smacked a deep fly ball over the head of Atlanta center fielder Jordan Schafer in the second inning and slid headfirst into second base for a double but did not show signs of pain.
Wedge had a short discussion on the field with his catcher prior to the fourth inning and pulled Olivo after just one batter.
Gimenez was brought up from Triple-A Tacoma on April 8. The 28-year-old is in his first season with the Mariners and is hitting .171 (7-for-41) through 16 games (14 starts) this season. His last start came one week ago in a June 21 loss at Washington.
Olivo has started 50 of the last 58 Mariners games and is hitting .222 this season. He leads American League catchers with 12 homers.
Back in lineup, Cust provides punch for Seattle
SEATTLE -- Jack Cust was back at designated hitter on Tuesday for the Mariners for the first time in two weeks, and the veteran did his part to provide a needed spark for a club searching for offensive help.
Cust, who was just 3-for-30 this month coming into the game with sporadic playing time not helping his attempt to find his batting stroke, went 2-for-4 with a homer and an RBI double in the Mariners' 5-4 loss to the Braves.
His last at-bat was a screaming line drive to right field off tough lefty Jonny Venters, but Jason Heyward made an excellent catch before bumping into the wall.
The 32-year-old didn't play at all in 12 of the previous 19 games and, with the Mariners playing National League rules for six days last week, he's had only three pinch-hit appearances in Seattle's previous 10 outings.
- 131 wins
- 121 wins
"I understand the situation," said Cust, who lost time to rookies Mike Carp and Carlos Peguero as he's hit just .222 with three home runs and 21 RBIs in his first three months with Seattle. "I feel I can help the team out. Obviously I haven't up to this point hit to my potential, but I'm a streaky guy.
"I haven't gotten hot yet. I feel like I can get hot and carry a team for a little bit when I do. I've done it in the past. It's no secret we've been struggling to score runs, so they're trying anything they can. And unfortunately for myself, it's cost me at-bats, but that's the way the game is.
"I can't say I've done anything to warrant playing any more than I have, but I'm just hoping my timing is good and it clicks and go from there. Because I feel like can help this team score runs."
Cust's last start was June 14 against the Angels when he went 0-for-2 with a walk. That's a long stretch for any hitter to sit, and Cust is no exception.
"It's hard because you're not playing for a reason, so you're working on making things better in the box, but you can overdo that as well," he said. "You get a couple pinch-hit at-bats and things don't go well, so you try something else and then something else."
Ultimately, the Mariners just want Cust to be the guy they hoped for when they signed him as a free agent after slugging 97 home runs the past four years for Oakland.
"Custy hasn't been in there in quite awhile," manager Eric Wedge said. "He's been a terrific teammate. He's handled himself as a great pro. We've had some good conversations. He's been working in batting practice and utilizing his time to try to find it.
"I think it's a good opportunity to try to get him in there," said Wedge, who expressed frustration with his offense after Monday's 3-1 loss to the Braves. "Obviously it's a good time to shake things up, try to get these guys going. I felt it was a good point in time to put him in there today."
The hard part, for Cust, is that these rare opportunities now represent what might be his last chance to show he can still help. Yet balancing that kind of pressure on an already difficult situation isn't easy.
"My first month was terrible, the second month I thought was better," Cust said. "Then I was hitting OK in June, not the way I'm capable as far as driving the ball, but I felt like my swing was getting better. Then when you start not playing, you try to get it as perfect as you can. It's a fine line between trying to do too much. When it comes down to it, it's just about getting in there and hitting the ball."
Gutierrez gets rest amid June woes at plate
SEATTLE -- Things haven't come easily for Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez this season. He spent much of Spring Training and the first six weeks of the season on the disabled list with stomach problems and has fought to regain his form once back in uniform.
A 3-for-22 slump the past six games has dropped his batting average to .197 and he has just one home run and eight RBIs in 117 at-bats for the season. After looking like he was making progress, the Gold Glove outfielder has hit just .175 in June with a .200 slugging percentage, with two doubles his only extra-base hits in 80 at-bats this month.
Yet the Mariners are 21-13 in games he's appeared this year, 18-12 when he's started. So manager Eric Wedge gave the 28-year-old Venezuelan a day off to rest Tuesday, with rookie Greg Halman in center, but Gutierrez remains a critical part of the Mariners' plans going forward.
"I think he is improving," Wedge said. "It's been a very unusual year for him, through no fault of his own. Now we need to see what we've actually been seeing a little more of the last four or five games, where he's staying in at-bats longer, making better outs, utilizing the middle of the field more, and he's had a few timely hits for us.
"Those are the indicators that he's heading in the right direction."
Wedge is a firm believer that progress is often last seen in the box scores, while the real work toward improvement comes in preparation, batting practice and the approach taken at the plate in games in different situations.
"Yeah, he's been a little bit better," Wedge said. "But we need everybody to do that. I don't want it to be Groundhog Day. I want to see improvement. It may not get results, but I want to see adjustments, see us do a better job in hitter's counts and better job fighting when we're behind in the count."
The Long Haul Bombers, a collection of the nation's greatest softball home run hitters, will face off Wednesday at Safeco Field prior to the Mariners' afternoon game against the Braves. Game time is 12:40 p.m. PT, and the softball hitting exhibition will start about noon, with plenty of towering shots guaranteed from one of the season's popular pregame events.
Friday will be Turn Back the Clock night at Safeco, with the first 20,000 fans receiving a "Mariners Vice" poster featuring Miguel Olivo as Tubbs and Justin Smoak as Crockett from the NBC show that debuted in 1984. The Mariners and Padres will wear vintage uniforms -- the Mariners featuring the trident "M" and the Padres in brown and gold -- in the 7:10 p.m. game.
Rookie Dustin Ackley reached base safely in his first 10 games going into Tuesday night's contest, tying him with Jamie Allen (1983) for the second-longest string to open a career. The Mariners record? That would be Alvin Davis in 1984 at 47 games.
Ichiro Suzuki's 273 hits in Interleague games going into Tuesday are the most in the Major Leagues in the span from 2001 to now. Second on the list is the Rangers' Michael Young at 253, with the Yankees' Derek Jeter at 240. Ichiro is fourth among active players in Interleague batting average at .334.
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. Taylor Soper is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.