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Mariners' hitters should enjoy trips to Houston

Mariners' hitters should enjoy trips to Houston

Mariners' hitters should enjoy trips to Houston
SEATTLE -- There'll no doubt be mixed opinions about the idea of the Houston Astros moving into the American League West, but one Mariners player who welcomes the addition is first baseman Justin Smoak.

Major League Baseball approved the sale of the Astros to Jim Crane on Thursday and said the team will move to the AL West as soon as 2013 in order to balance out the American and National Leagues at 15 teams each.

Smoak played three Interleague games in Houston's Minute Maid Park in 2010 for the Rangers and went 7-for-14 with two home runs, two doubles and eight RBIs.

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"I like the idea of playing in Houston a little more often," Smoak said with a chuckle when reached at his home in South Carolina on Thursday. "The ball flies everywhere there, that's all I remember. It's the total opposite of Safeco Field."

While there are concerns among some that the addition of Houston to the AL West adds to an already difficult Mariners travel schedule, given Seattle's distance from other MLB markets, Smoak sees a positive there as well.

"I think it's good," he said. "I think it'll help us out with travel because while going to [play the Rangers] we can just sweep down and play those guys, too. It's all good. It's better than having just four teams."

Smoak isn't the only Mariners hitter with a good history in Houston. Ichiro Suzuki has hit .536 (15-for-28) in six games at Minute Maid Park. Chone Figgins has a .385 average (5-for-13) with a double and triple in three games.

Catcher Miguel Olivo has batted .250 (8-for-34) with a home run and three RBIs. But shortstop Brendan Ryan has just a .154 average (6-for-39) with two doubles and four RBIs in 15 games as a former NL player with the Cardinals.

The young Mariners pitching staff has little experience in Houston. Felix Hernandez has pitched there once, taking a loss when he gave up 12 hits and four runs -- including one home run -- in six innings.

Jason Vargas has started once in Minute Maid, also losing when he allowed three runs and four hits -- including two homers -- in five innings.

The retractable-roofed stadium is known for its outfield slope in deep center field, but Smoak remembers it for a much different reason.

"I played there a couple weeks before I got traded to Seattle," he said. "It's a beautiful park and they can close the roof and make it nice in the middle of a hot summer. I had a pretty good series. I definitely liked playing there and I'm excited at the chance to get down there more often."

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.

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