03/23/2013 2:03 AM ET
Smoak sizzling at the plate this spring
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The numbers, even if they won't count once Opening Day hits, speak volumes about how comfortable Justin Smoak is at the plate this Spring Training.
After his fourth homer and a sacrifice fly in Thursday night's game against the Cubs, the Mariners first baseman has hit in 12 of 14 games, stroking five doubles and four homers while posting a 1.189 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), which ranks sixth in the Cactus League.
Given the day off Friday, Smoak says the numbers pretty much reflect how he's feeling at the plate as Opening Day approaches.
"A lot of work went into last year and this offseason, and I feel like I'm where I want to be and I've got to keep on putting the work in to get that feeling day in and day out," said Smoak, who has gone 14-for-36 (.389) from the left side of the plate and 3-for-8 (.375) from the right.
Smoak had a pretty big spring in 2012, too, and he followed that with career highs in most every offensive category. He finished with a flourish with five homers and six doubles after Sept. 1, and he came into camp with more of an idea of what he wanted to accomplish than years previous.
"I feel like I have a better understanding of what I need to do, and that's something I haven't had the last couple of years," Smoak said. "I've got to just stick to the plan."
Felix 'fantastic' in penultimate spring outing
PEORIA, Ariz. -- As tuneups for the regular season go, the one turned in Friday night by Felix Hernandez was nothing short of brilliant, and it concluded with something the Mariners would like to see as often as possible in 2013: a standing ovation as he left the mound.
The Mariners ace waved to the adoring crowd as he headed into the dugout at Peoria Stadium, and in the clubhouse later he said the reception didn't go unnoticed.
"Pretty good, I love that. I love all the fans from Seattle that are here. That felt pretty good," he said.
What really felt good, though, was marching through the Padres' lineup with hardly a hiccup. Other than allowing a single and a double in the second inning that didn't add up to a run, Hernandez was dominant, pitching six shutout innings and striking out nine batters while throwing a whopping 50 strikes in 70 pitches.
"I thought he looked great," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "He was efficient, he was strong, he used all his pitches and had great command. He looked fantastic tonight."
Said Hernandez: "Everything was sharp. My fastball was good. I had a lot of command. ... Every start I feel more comfortable. I'm just getting ready for the season."
With one more start before Opening Day, it's clear Hernandez is on top of his game and that these last couple of tuneups have him humming along toward another stellar season.
Hernandez will make his sixth Opening Day start in seven seasons, missing the 2008 one when Kevin Millwood got the nod. His sixth start will match Randy Johnson for the most in franchise history, and Hernandez has gone 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings in his previous five Opening Day assignments.
"It always means a lot. Being starting pitcher on Opening Day is an honor," said Hernandez, who now owns a 1.64 ERA through 11 spring innings with 14 strikeouts and just one walk.
• Franklin Gutierrez, who has been battling leg soreness, led off as the designated hitter Friday, going 0-for-5. Wedge said he expects Gutierrez back in his normal spot in center field "in a couple of days" as the team tries to pace his return so he's healthy for the opener.
Jason Bay started in center for the second straight game, this time getting three putouts, including a tough one against the fence off a Kyle Blanks blast in the eighth inning, after not seeing a ball all game the day before -- including, according to Wedge, in batting practice before Thursday's game.
• Right-hander Carter Capps worked the ninth inning for the save, striking out the side. Wedge said that's part of a concerted effort to get as many relievers as possible working in the ninth inning to expose them to the pressure of the final three outs.
"Obviously, Carter was outstanding right there, but we've probably done that with seven or eight different guys this spring," Wedge said. "Regardless of Spring Training or not, getting that final out in the final inning, there's a little more on the line, a little bit different adrenaline."
• The Mariners are getting some pop out of their catchers this spring. Kelly Shoppach drilled a solo homer in Friday's game, and Jesus Montero has doubled in three consecutive games and has six doubles on the spring, batting .364 (12-for-33).
• Outfielder Michael Morse celebrated his 31st birthday Thursday by starting the game-winning rally with a single and scoring the go-ahead run in the eighth.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.