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05/02/12 7:05 PM ET

Struggling Smoak dropped to seventh in order

Struggling Smoak dropped to seventh in order

ST. PETERSBURG -- Struggling first baseman Justin Smoak was dropped to seventh in the Mariners batting order Wednesday, as manager Eric Wedge said he wanted the youngster to take a break from being the clean-up hitter.

Wedge didn't put a time frame on the move, but hopes Smoak can get squared away and work his way back up the lineup after starting the season with a .190 average, three home runs and nine RBIs in his first 21 games.

"I still believe in Smoak," said Wedge. "I've always been one of his biggest fans. I know he's going to get it done, but right now he's not getting it done and we're in the business of winning ballgames here, so we had to make an adjustment.

"I think it's going to help him to take him out of there, catch his breath a little and get back on track. Then we'll go from there."

Wedge said he needs more production out of the middle of his order after seeing the team go 0-for-30 with runners in scoring position over four games heading into Wednesday's contest.

"I think we'll leave him down there a little while," Wedge said. "But my hope would be to get him back in the middle of our lineup, because I think that's where he belongs."

Smoak hit a couple balls hard in Tuesday's 3-1 loss, but acknowledge he needs to be more consistent to get results.

"I hit the line drive to the first baseman and the deep fly ball to center," he said. "The more you do that, the more success you're going to have. I'm doing it once or twice every two days. You have to be more consistent with that. That's where I feel I'm at right now. I need to have better at-bats and swing at the right pitches."

Montero catching fire when behind the dish

ST. PETERSBURG -- Mariners rookie Jesus Montero has hit the ball much better when he's been catching so far this season, as opposed to when he's at designated hitter. The difference is considerable, but the number of games so far is limited, so drawing conclusions might be premature.

A year ago, the youngster hit better at DH while with the Yankees, so that's worth adding to the equation. But going into Wednesday night's game against the Rays, Montero was hitting .542 (13-for-24) with three home runs and eight RBIs in seven games while he was behind the plate.

In 16 games at designated hitter, he's hitting .197 (12-for-61) with one home run and five RBIs.

Coincidence? Small sample size? Some of both? Manager Eric Wedge isn't dismissing the dramatic difference.

"I think most players do better when they play, because it's not just one dimension," Wedge said. "You're out there playing the game, you're not sitting around thinking about or dissecting your at-bats, from one at-bat 30 to 35 minutes to the next at-bat.

"I think that's just human nature, most people would be better. It takes a special guy to go out there and just DH, and usually it's a veteran guy."

Montero said he's fine in either role, but acknowledged it's easier to get in a flow when he's also catching.

"I just don't think about hitting," he said. "I try to hit and make good contact every time. I worry more about my pitchers because I want to win and call the right pitches, too."

Given time, Montero surely will improve his DH numbers this season. He did just fine in that role with the Yankees last September, hitting .340 (17-for-50) with four home runs and 10 RBIs. In the three games he caught for New York, he hit .300 (3-for-10) with no home runs and two RBIs.

"I did it last year," he said. "When I'm DHing, we create a routine. I'm running every single time, getting loose, so I'll be warm and ready. But it's hard because sometimes you hit the ball hard and they catch it."

Kawasaki assuming role of emergency catcher

ST. PETERSBURG -- With veteran Miguel Olivo on the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin, the Mariners are going with rookie Jesus Montero and veteran John Jaso as their only two catchers. And since Montero normally serves as the designated hitter when not behind the plate, manager Eric Wedge knows he could need a third catcher some time.

Enter utility infielder Munenori Kawasaki, who got some work in the bullpen Wednesday with catching instructor Jeff Datz throwing him pitches.

"We just need an emergency third catcher," Wedge said. "He's the first guy that came to mind. I guess that covers about everything, when I think about him. He has good hands, he's a good athlete, he's more than willing and able to do everything."

Kawasaki was an eight-time All-Star shortstop in Japan and has brought an energetic approach to Seattle, where he's worked at third base, shortstop and second base.

"We just took him down there and gave him a few reps, just in case," Wedge said. "Datzy said he did fine. They didn't do much, but of course Muney said he's ready to go. Datzy said, 'I'm throwing about 40, they throw 90. It's a little different story.'

"But if I'm going to DH Montero or pinch-run for Montero, which obviously I am, then we're down to one. If something happens, not good. So we're just going to continue to work through that and see if we have any other volunteers. Not that he volunteered. I volunteered him."

Wedge said shortstop Brendan Ryan actually did volunteer, which isn't surprising from the outgoing veteran.

"He'd go back there right now and do it, so he's in my brain a little bit," Wedge said. "He said he's looking forward to calling a game. Now that's scary."

Worth noting

• Montero was at catcher for a second straight game on Wednesday, the first time he's gone back-to-back this season. Manager Eric Wedge said John Jaso would be behind the plate in Thursday's day game.

Wedge also indicated Mike Carp would play Thursday for the first time since being activated from the disabled list.

• Franklin Gutierrez, still in Peoria, Ariz., working to come back from several injuries, did some running Wednesday for the first time since being diagnosed with a plantar fasciitis problem in his heel.

"He had a good day," Wedge said. "He did some short sprints, felt good, good enough where he'll keep moving around for a few days and we'll see if we can get through this."

• Olivo was off his crutches and walking around without much of a limp on Wednesday, looking much better than when he initially went down with a strained groin muscle on Monday night. Olivo went on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday and will be examined further when the team returns to Seattle on Friday.

"With regard to what we saw on the field to where he is now, he's doing great," Wedge said. "You know with his work ethic and attitude, he'll be back as soon as humanly possible."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.