SEATTLE -- First-year Mariners manager Eric Wedge held a team meeting before Monday's batting practice. His message: Though his team isn't vying for a playoff spot, the season is not over by any means.
"I just wanted to talk to them about how we have 30 games left and just reinforce just how important the length of the season is and how important every game is," Wedge said. "And it was about what we're playing for here. Every game means something. Every game counts for something. Every game is a part of who you are and what you'll eventually be."
Sure, the Mariners are 56-76 and 18 1/2 games back in the American League West. But that doesn't mean there isn't something to gain and respect from every ballgame.
"When I talk about respecting the game, I'm talking about respecting the length of the season," Wedge said. "Even though we're not in it, every game does mean something. It's about respecting Major League Baseball, respecting the Seattle Mariners and respecting the teams that we're playing that are in it. Because sooner or later, when we're playing for something in September, having gone through something like this -- albeit secondary -- it'll help us."
While it may not help in terms of getting more wins, the young Mariners will get a chance to play several games down the stretch against teams that are in the playoff race. Including Monday night's bout, they'll face the Angels six more times, AL West-leading Texas six times and the New York Yankees three times.
Veteran Jack Wilson has been through numerous team meetings. He said that anytime your team is out of the pennant race, it's good to be reminded again of what playing late in the season means for the future.
"Anytime you come to this part of the season and mathematically you're kind of out of it, you want to make sure that you have a month left of the season and people understand that what you're doing right now is trying to win games, but you're also going out there for a 2012 job," Wilson said.
But it's not just about preparing for the future, the 33-year-old veteran said. It's about realizing the fact that you're still a privileged Major League ballplayer.
"It's very easy to get comfortable here," he said. "For the young guys, it's to make sure they know that every day you've got to still work hard with a lot of heart, because getting here is tough, but staying here is tougher.
"It's just reiterating that and respecting the game and respecting the fact that you're wearing a big league uniform. You are representing the city of Seattle, you should be proud of that and respect the fact that you're doing so."
It's been tough for Wedge to juggle the lineup every day and give different players opportunities to prove themselves. The Mariners have had 10 players make their big league debut this season, which is the highest in the Majors this season. There are 12 rookies on the 25-man roster.
The gray area between winning games in August and September and letting players gain game experience and opportunities is something Wedge is forced to deal with. On Monday, he reiterated that winning is still and will always be the most important thing the Mariners do.
"I just think it's important for all our of fans and everybody to know that our job each and every day, first and foremost, is to come out here and win this game today," Wedge said. "Everything is second to that.
"But because of where we are as an organization and what we're trying to build here, to give opportunity to young players, to continue to get some of our veteran guys that we're counting on going in the right direction, and quite frankly evaluating as we move forward, that's important."
Smoak starts rehab, eyes strong finish in bigs
SEATTLE -- Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak began his rehab assignment Monday night with Triple-A Tacoma.
Manager Eric Wedge said that Smoak, who fractured his nose on Aug. 12, will play in the field for six innings Monday night and probably fill in at the designated hitter slot on Tuesday.
Wedge said he's excited to get his starting first baseman back on the diamond.
"I still think he's still working to be -- I think it's obvious-- the big league hitter he's going to become," he said. "I'm disappointed that we've missed as much time as we have because I know he would have been further along. That's why I'm anxious to get him back here and let him play for a month."
Smoak, who is on the 15-day disabled list and is eligible to be activated at any time, hit just .141 in July and is 10 for his last 75 (.133).
"Mentally, it's just been a crazy year from a personal standpoint," Smoak said on Saturday. "Just one of those things you got to play through. Hopefully, I stay healthy for the rest of the year and finish strong."
Chone Figgins, who has been on the disabled list since Aug. 2 with a hip flexor, should start a rehab stint within the week, Wedge said. Figgins is hitting .188 this season through 81 games.
Ichiro Suzuki needs 49 hits over the last 30 games to ensure his 11th straight 200-hit season. The right fielder has recorded 49 or more hits in a month six times in his career.
Though the Mariners' bullpen may now be extremely young -- Tom Wilhelmsen, Chance Ruffin and Josh Lueke are all rookies -- it has combined to allow just two runs over the last four games and posted a 2.14 ERA (five earned runs in 21 innings).
Taylor Soper is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.