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Notebook: Smoak comparing favorably to others at 1B

By Shannon Drayer

After managing to dodge David Price for the better part of six seasons, the Mariners get their first look at the former Cy Young Award winner.

It is one of those strange things in baseball. Price had 38 chances to pitch against the Mariners in his career but his number never came up at the right time. Of course, the Mariners are getting him at a great time. Since coming back from the disabled list at the beginning of July, he has made eight starts and given up just 10 earned runs. In that time he has walked two batters.

The Mariners' lineup:

Brad Miller, 6
Nick Franklin, 4
Kyle Seager, 5
Kendrys Morales, DH
Michael Morse, 9
Justin Smoak, 3
Michael Saunders, 7
Dustin Ackley, 8
Humberto Quintero, 2

Four lefties against the lefty with not many options to do otherwise. Not exactly a balanced roster but we have known that. Michael Morse has faced Price before and gone 2 for 3. Justin Smoak faced him in college back in 2006 and got a two-run home run off of him. Beyond that, not a lot of experience against Price.

Speaking of Smoak, his recent hot streak with the bat is not so recent. Over the past calendar year he has hit .278/.341/.458/.799, good for the sixth-best average, third-best on-base percentage, seventh-best slugging percentage, fourth-best wOBA, and third-best wRC+ for all qualified American League first basemen over that time. Thank you, FanGraphs.com, for the numbers. Worth mentioning his WAR is fifth best.

Those are numbers you want to see from your first baseman and I think there is a good chance we see him get more consistent throughout a season as well. His biggest shortcoming now – and it is getting better – is hitting with runners in scoring position.

On the postgame show Tuesday night, Matt Pitman asked if I could see Robby Thompson move Smoak up in the order. This is where things get interesting. His numbers would suggest he has yet to get comfortable in the middle of the order. The majority of his at-bats this year have come at sixth, where he has hit .267/.366/.422/.788. Move him up one spot and those numbers plummet (half the sample size) to .217/.309/.325/.634. Hit him seventh in almost the same number of at-bats and you find his best line: .393/.479/.738/1.217.

At some point you want him higher in the order. It shouldn't make a difference to him but it would appear it does. It is a hurdle you would like to see him get over.

One more note: On Tuesday night, Thompson for the first time declared Danny Farquhar the closer. He didn't use the word closer but he said that he would use Farquhar in that role for the time being. This helps get everyone else back into roles and more importantly it takes away the need to decide who you are going to hold back to close.

Bullpen usage will be important on this trip. With Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma starting only three of the nine games, this bullpen could get taxed if a few of the others stumble. With the small number of arms in the pen you don't want to burn them out too soon. Thompson had the opportunity to go to Charlie Furbush on Tuesday but held him back and let Yoervis Medina face a lefty. Good move in that Medina got the lefty out and Furbush is a fresh arm tonight.

Just something to watch for on the trip. Can they keep the pen relatively fresh?

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