3/2/2014 8:12 P.M. ET
McClendon wants Smoak to hit more doubles
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has raised a few eyebrows this spring by mentioning several times that his goal for Justin Smoak is to have the young first baseman lead the American League in doubles.
That's a bold statement about a player who has hit 61 doubles in 416 games over his three-plus years as a Mariner, which is just 10 more than Baltimore's Manny Machado totaled just last season, leading the league.
But McClendon's point is simple. He wants Smoak looking to be a hitter driving the ball to all fields, not just a guy looking to yank it out of the park. And if initial impressions are worth anything, Smoak has taken the message to heart.
The 27-year-old from South Carolina smoked a line shot halfway off the batter's eye in center field in Peoria Stadium on Saturday off Angels standout C.J. Wilson. The drive would have easily been a home run in most situations, but bounded off the high wall and gave Smoak his second double in as many games as he's come out of the gate hitting 3-for-4 with a walk in his first five at-bats this spring.
"It's the second game of the spring and we've got a long way to go," Smoak said Sunday. "But at the same time, it's good to see some of the stuff I've been working on show up here in the early going."
Cactus League numbers don't mean a whole lot in the big picture, but for Smoak, they're reinforcement of the approach he's taken, and are a welcome sight for his new skipper as well.
"I just see good at-bats," McClendon said. "I see a purpose in BP. He's focused. I don't think he's concerned about hitting home runs in batting practice. He's working on trying to be a good hitter and I just continue to pound home with him, I just want him to lead the league in doubles. If he does that, he'll be doing a lot of things right."
What makes McClendon think that's even remotely possible for a guy who hit 19 doubles in 131 games last season, along with 20 homers?
"He's a big, strong kid with a powerful swing," McClendon said. "He generates bat speed. We're just trying to clean up his [swing] path and get him to understand that he needs to be a good hitter and not a home run hitter. Home runs are a byproduct of being a good hitter. But when you try to put the cart before the horse, then you've got problems. We're just trying to get that horse out front again and let him lead. And he's doing OK."
Smoak said his double off Wilson was "one of the better swings I've taken right-handed in a long time." And that is particularly encouraging for the switch-hitter, given he struggled from his natural right side most of last year.
"One thing about right-handed, I'm not trying to pull anything," he said. "I'm trying to hit the other way and up the middle. If I get one inside, then it's just reaction. The last few years I've gone up there feeling strong, with it being my natural side, and feeling like I can pull everything. It's one of those things where I'm just trying to get out of that and use the whole field."
Wolf knows road back is tougher this time
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Randy Wolf admits this time is different. The veteran southpaw is coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery for the second time in his career, but this time there are far more questions as he returns at age 37.
Wolf answered the first of those in a positive way Sunday as he made his Mariners debut with two scoreless innings in Seattle's 6-3 Cactus League loss to the Indians, allowing one single and a walk with one strikeout in his first game action since Sept. 22, 2012, when he was with the Orioles.
"It is different because sometimes perception is reality," Wolf said. "After a first Tommy John, everybody is like, 'Well, he just had Tommy John, he'll be back in 12 or 13 months. No problem.' When you have two, even when you're in your 30s -- mid-30s, upper-mid-30s -- you get a lot of naysayers. Not that they're doing it maliciously, but they just don't see it possible.
"There's a lot more doubt this time around," he said. "The doubt that has to be eliminated is in my mind. So you have moments like these that are very self-gratifying."
Wolf and Scott Baker are veterans trying to crack Seattle's rotation as non-roster invitees on Minor League deals and both made solid first impressions in their first outings.
"I felt like with everybody being healthy, I still had an opportunity and I shouldn't gain by anybody else's misfortune," said Wolf, a 2003 All-Star who has a 132-117 record and 4.20 ERA over his lengthy career. "I feel when I'm healthy, I'm an average to above-average Major League pitcher. And obviously when I'm not healthy, I've been horrible. And I admit that.
"I really feel the way I've prepared over the past 15 months, if this ligament holds up, I can pitch in the big leagues and really help a team. So I don't want anybody to go down on this team. When I signed with the Seattle Mariners, even as a non-roster guy, I want what's best for the organization. And the best for this organization doesn't happen when guys go down."
Wolf said he threw all his pitches, working mostly on keeping his fastball down and adding in a new splitter he feels will be helpful. And Wolf could help the Mariners if he returns to the pitcher who threw 212 or more innings in three straight years with the Dodgers and Brewers from 2009-11 and posted a 37-29 record and 3.70 ERA in that span before his elbow started acting up again.
"I've got a long way to go," Wolf said, "but it was a good first step."
Seager sits out to rest jammed finger
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager sat out Sunday's action against the Indians due to a jammed index finger as Seattle dropped a 6-3 decision.
Seager hasn't played since the Mariners' initial Cactus League game Thursday after injuring his right hand while sliding into third base. The injury isn't believed to be serious, but Seager has been given the ensuing three games off to recover.
Seager, 26, has been one of the Mariners' top players the past two years. He hit .260 with 22 home runs and 69 RBIs in 2013 after batting .259 with 20 home runs and 86 RBIs in 2012.
With Seager out, the Mariners have primarily used Willie Bloomquist, Carlos Triunfel and Nate Tenbrink at third base.
Maurer strong in first live batting practice
PEORIA, Ariz. -- After a one-week setback with a stiff back, Brandon Maurer threw his first live batting practice of the spring on Sunday as the young Mariners right-hander began working his way back into the starting rotation competition.
"I thought he threw the ball exceptionally well," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "I was very pleased. He threw all four of his pitches, threw strikes, and he looked real good."
Maurer was the surprise of camp last year, making the jump from Double-A ball to the starting five to open the season. That was a big leap for the 6-foot-5 California native, who went 5-8 with a 6.30 ERA in 22 outings (14 starts). But he benefited from the experience and could challenge again for a roster berth if he takes a strong step forward this spring.
Though Maurer worked out of the bullpen at times last year, McClendon said the 23-year-old is definitely in the starting mix this spring.
"I saw him live against us in Detroit last year," McClendon said. "I thought his stuff was tremendous. Plus fastball, plus slider. I think the biggest thing with him is getting connected with his inner self and understanding who he is and what he's all about when he's on that mound and not getting too emotional.
"If you're a starter, you can't get too caught up in the emotions. You have to keep everything under control and that's one of the things he's working on this spring."
• Right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor continues throwing bullpen sessions and working his way back from surgery to repair a torn latissimus dorsi muscle behind his throwing shoulder. Pryor threw his third bullpen of the spring Saturday.
"He threw extremely well," McClendon said. "He felt great. He continues to move forward and is feeling good about what he's doing."
McClendon said Pryor's next step will be throwing to live hitters, but he's not near that point yet.
• Triple-A Tacoma manager Rich Donnelly continues working as the Mariners third-base coach in the early Cactus League games in place of John Stearns, who is out four to six weeks after undergoing hernia surgery. McClendon said no final decision has been made on how the team will fill that position once the Mariners' Minor League camp opens.
• The Mariners have split-squad games Monday with Erasmo Ramirez facing the Reds in Goodyear and Blake Beavan opening against the Rockies in Peoria, with both games at 12:05 p.m. PT. Robinson Cano is scheduled to play in Peoria.