5/18/2014 3:03 P.M. ET
Smoak doubling up in '14
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- New Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon raised some eyebrows in Spring Training when he said his goal for Justin Smoak was to try to lead the American League in doubles.
McClendon's push was for his first baseman to be a better overall hitter rather than just looking to pull balls for home runs, but that seemed a tough task for a guy whose career high for doubles was 24, and who had hit just 19 in the previous season.
But Smoak latched onto the idea, acknowledging that he hits better when he goes to all fields, and he laced his team-leading 10th double on Saturday in his 42nd game of the year, putting him on pace for 39 for the season. If that pace continues, he would double his total of doubles from a year ago.
The switch-hitter has hit five doubles from each side of the plate, further adding to the improved balance he's trying to provide to the lineup.
Smoak is on pace to hit 23 home runs with 100 RBIs and his .243 batting average and .428 slugging percentage are both career bests, though he's taken fewer walks this season and his on-base percentage of .308 is behind last year's .334.
Trevor Plouffe of the Twins currently leads the American League in doubles with 17.
McClendon preaching patience with Miller
MINNEAPOLIS -- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has a simple answer for the many people who figure they have solutions for slumping shortstop Brad Miller. Just leave the youngster alone, says McClendon, and he'll work his way through things and return to the productive player that debuted last season.
Miller was hitting .157 going into Sunday's series finale with the Twins, and that average is just .100 (7-for-70) over his last 23 games. But Miller hit .265 last season as a rookie and was a .334 hitter in three Minor League seasons with the Mariners after being drafted in the second round out of Clemson in 2011, and McClendon is giving him time to work through his struggles.
"Is he better than what he's shown? Absolutely," McClendon said. "Is he as good as his Minor League numbers? Probably not. But he's somewhere in between there and we have to get him to that point. Right now I think it's more mental than physical. And the one thing he'll get when this is all over -- and it will be over -- he'll be battle tested. He's going to be a big leaguer.
"Because it happens to the best of us. I played with Barry Bonds, and at the end of May he was hitting .163. But he came through it and was MVP. You have to become battle tested. Nobody likes it. I don't like it. Fans don't like it. I'm 'an idiot for playing him.' All that stuff. I get it. But in the end, we'll see."
McClendon is trying to get the 24-year-old to clear his mind at this point and focus on looking for pitches in the strike zone, while letting his natural instincts return at the plate. The manager said he's received calls from various scouts saying Miller is standing too erect, or crouching too much or various things. And he's having none of it.
"Everybody talks about where your hands are or 'is he standing straight?'" McClendon said. "Good hitters make adjustments and fight through it. That's what he's doing. He's fighting through a slump. Some days he's up, other days he's spread out. Some days his hands are high, other days they're low. I went through it. I did it. I know exactly what he's going through.
"I know people care. But back off and let us do our job, because the worst thing that can happen to this kid is a thousand voices start getting in his head. Everybody means well and I get it. But if you want him to do well and you want to help him, leave him alone."
The Mariners seem intent on giving Miller every opportunity. Shortstop Chris Taylor, who was hitting .372 at Triple-A Tacoma, just went on the seven-day disabled list this week with a broken finger on his left hand. Nick Franklin, who was beaten out in spring by Miller for the shortstop job, is hitting .376 with Tacoma, but has played in the outfield the past two games.
McClendon said Franklin has been hampered by a back injury in recent days.
"Hopefully his back is healthy, and then we'll see where we are," McClendon said. "Obviously we need offense, and he's certainly an option. [General manager] Jack [Zduriencik] and I have talked about it. We'll see where we are in the next few days. But for him to be able to play a lot of different positions, as I've said before, is important. Because if he's going to be here right now, he's going to have to move around."
Bats have gone silent during skid
MINNEAPOLIS -- After erupting for their highest scoring game of the season in Monday's 12-5 runaway win over the Rays, Seattle's bats have gone silent in four straight losses.
In the final two games of the Rays series in Seattle and first two of the Twins set at Target Field, the Mariners averaged just two runs a game while batting .181 with 10 walks and 32 strikeouts.
Most troublesome of all, the club went 1-for-26 (.038) with runners in scoring position, which spelled all the difference in four games when their opponents won 2-1, 2-0, 5-4 and 4-3.
Timely hitting is crucial for any team, and the Mariners batted .302 (45-for-149) with runners in scoring position during the stretch where they went 13-5 from April 23 to May 12.
"It's a matter of relaxing and understanding the pressure is on the pitcher, and the most important thing you have to do is get a pitch to hit and then put a good swing on it," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Then whatever happens after that, happens. A lot of times, young hitters have no plan and they expand [their strike zone] and they put all the pressure on themselves. And it should be just the opposite."
The common theme among the Mariners players is that hitting is contagious, and they just need a big hit or two in key situations to get everyone to relax again.
"I feel like everyone is on the verge of contributing like we should be doing, but all we can do is keep working hard, keep grinding and stay confident out there," said rookie center fielder James Jones, who has been one of the few consistent players in the recent stretch with an eight-game hitting streak.
For the season, the Mariners were hitting .248 with runners in scoring position entering Sunday, which is actually better than their .231 overall batting average. With their recent slump, the Mariners have fallen below the Astros and now rank last in the American League in batting average and on-base percentage (.293). They're 14th in slugging percentage at .370, one spot above the Royals (.356).
• Robinson Cano entered Sunday's game tied for fourth in the AL in hits with 50, and tied for fifth in multi-hit games with 15.
• Mariners right-hander Chris Young is fourth among AL starters in opponents batting average against with a .210 average. Young has a career batting average against of .224 over 167 Major League games.