SEATTLE -- It's difficult to gauge how much stock to put into Justin Smoak's September revival as the Mariners first baseman hit .340 in the first 15 games this month and had a trio of three-hit games in his last six starts going into Saturday's game with the Rangers.Smoak rallied late his prior two seasons in Seattle as well and is a career .324 hitter with eight home runs and 25 RBIs in 51 games in September and October. But after a season-long struggle for Smoak, manager Eric Wedge said he does see some changes in the 25-year-old's swing that lead him to believe there is something to the upswing that has lifted his batting average from .189 to .207 over the past seven games as he's gone 13-for-28 (.464) with a pair of home runs. "Here's the thing," Wedge said. "He's done some things fundamentally that are real. It'd be different if he was going up there with the same approach and doing the same thing and having some success. Then you've got to question it. "But the fact he's done some things fundamentally, it's not just a coincidence that he's doing a little bit better. It makes you feel like there could be something to it and I believe that there is." Smoak said the major change is he's now holding on to the bat with both hands through his full swing from the left side, which is helping shorten his stroke. But Wedge said he's seeing better things all around from the switch-hitter. "Most of it is from the left side, but there are some pieces to it on the right side, too," Wedge said.
Ackley remains sidelined by sore neck
SEATTLE -- Second baseman Dustin Ackley remained out of the Mariners lineup on Saturday as manager Eric Wedge gave his sore neck another day to recover.Ackley left Friday's series opener against the Rangers after three innings when his neck tightened up. Kyle Seager took his place at second base on Saturday, with Alex Liddi moving into Seager's spot at third. "He's better, but still needs another day," Wedge said prior to Saturday's game. "He should be OK for tomorrow. He woke up with it yesterday and it just got worse as we got into the game. So instead of pushing it and really taking a chance on missing some time, we got him out of there." Ackley has hit just .231 in 144 games, but the Mariners are 48-41 when he's been in the leadoff role. Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez took his spot atop the lineup for just the second time this season on Saturday. Wedge said he considered hitting Michael Saunders in the leadoff spot, but ultimately chose Gutierrez to put another right-hander up high in the order against Texas southpaw Matt Harrison.
Montero pushing down the stretch
SEATTLE -- Mariners catcher Jesus Montero wants to finish his first full season in the Majors in strong fashion, but the 22-year-old has struggled the past week while hitting .156 (5-for-32) over his last seven games.Manager Eric Wedge had Montero behind the plate Saturday against tough Rangers lefty Matt Harrison and is looking for the youngster to fight through things in the season's final four series. "We've seen some lack of discipline at home plate," Wedge said prior to Saturday's game with the Rangers. "He's swinging at pitchers' pitches, getting in a hurry up there. I think he's showing his frustration from time to time. "He's had some young moments lately," said Wedge. "But he's got to fight through it. He can't give into it. That's the challenge that is ahead of him for the next 11 games." John Jaso has started just once in the past six games, despite his team-leading .277 batting average, as the Mariners have run into a steady string of left-handed pitchers. Jaso has hit .135 against lefties (5-for-37) and .300 against right-handers (69-for-230), though Wedge said it's not a 100-percent situation of Jaso sitting against southpaws. "I don't look at it as an automatic sit," Wedge said. "I know I've done that a lot. But I'm not saying he can't compete against left-handers, because he's got too good of an approach. Where we are right now and what we're trying to do, I've been doing that more times than not, for other reasons that I won't get into. But I like when he's up at home plate."