SEATTLE -- When the Mariners landed Justin Smoak as the main piece from Texas in the Cliff Lee trade in 2010, they were hoping they had acquired a middle-of-the-order slugger for years to come.
In his first full season in Seattle last year, though, the switch-hitting first baseman struggled, connecting on 15 home runs and batting .234. As 2012 began, the frustrations continued, but after a 10-game road trip, Smoak returned home to face his former team Monday with a bit of a hot bat.
In his last nine games -- all on the road -- Smoak is hitting .351 (13-for-37) with two home runs, two doubles and four RBIs to raise his season average to .218. It's a trend Smoak is encouraged by, but he's not where he wants to be quite yet.
"It's just a matter of keep grinding out at-bats, keep having good at-bats," he said. "I'm seeing [the ball] better. I feel like I've got more of a rhythm up there now than what I had early on. Early on I felt a little robotic, but now I feel like I have more rhythm.
"I think it's more just stay in my zone and swing at pitches in my zone. Don't try and get out of it, don't swing at something the pitcher wants me to swing at, swing at a ball I want to hit. And when I get it, don't miss it. That's the thing right now, trying to square balls up and not foul off so many balls, not miss pitches I feel I should hit."
Smoak believes it's helped to be back in the lineup on a regular basis after a hamstring issue early in the season caused him to miss days here and there. Mariners manager Eric Wedge has stated multiple times this season that he continues to see encouraging things from his first baseman at the plate, but up until a 3-for-4 night against the Yankees on May 11, the results had not followed.
"His approach has been better -- his approach and his mindset, his hitting zone," Wedge said. "There's just a lot of different things, most are on the intangible side of things, that have really helped him a great deal. And I think it's showing up for him production wise."