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Smoak starts the season on a tear

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OAKLAND -- It's early, as everyone knows. And three games are a very small sample size. But there was no mistaking the difference in Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak's confidence level and production in key situations with runners in scoring position in Seattle's season-opening three-game sweep of the Angels.

Smoak entered Thursday's series opener against the A's leading the American League with seven RBIs, a huge breakthrough for a guy who totaled just 50 RBIs in 2013 and didn't get his seventh until his 39th game on May 18.

The difference is simple. Smoak came to the plate three times with runners in scoring position and two out in the Angels series and delivered a three-run double and three-run homer.

Last year, Smoak hit .230 with runners in scoring position, not far off his overall average of .238. But with two out and runners in scoring position, Smoak hit just .194. And with the bases loaded, he was 0-for-12 with a walk, a trend he quickly reversed with a bases-loaded double in his first shot in that situation this year.

Manager Lloyd McClendon told Smoak earlier this year he wanted him to try to lead the league in doubles instead of trying to hit home runs, feeling the 27-year-old needed to focus on driving the ball to all fields and going with pitches instead of getting pull happy and trying to overpower everything.

After three games, Smoak was hitting .462 and became just the eighth player in Mariners history to start the season with three straight multihit games. His seven RBIs through three games are tied for the most in franchise history, and he's had two doubles and two home runs.

"I just see a guy who is making a conscious effort to be a good hitter," McClendon said. "One thing I told him, his record coming in with the bases loaded last year, I told him don't worry about the bases being loaded. Worry about getting the first guy in. The rest of it will take care of itself.

"If you do that as a hitter, more often than not you're going to be successful. But when you worry about trying to get the guy in from first, you end up not getting any of them in. I think he's had a nice approach."

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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