SEATTLE -- Justin Smoak has stumbled out of the gates to start the 2012 campaign, but the Mariners first baseman just might be on the cusp of turning his fortunes around at the plate.
Smoak, who has hit out of the cleanup spot for the Mariners, entered Tuesday's game against the Indians hitting just .186 with five RBIs. But manager Eric Wedge has seen signs of improvement. The first came on Saturday when Smoak took multiple off-speed pitches and earned a walk.
Then came the line-drive home run Smoak hit Sunday, an at-bat where he not only fought to a full count, but one where he stayed back on a changeup for his second home run of the season.
"For him, he's at his best when he stays in his swing, his bat quickens up, he recognizes pitches better," Wedge said after Sunday's game. "Laying off one pitch today and then getting himself in position with the full count to where he can get on something there. A late changeup but he stayed through it and hit it out of the ballpark."
"To stay back on a changeup like that, that makes you feel a lot better," Smoak said. "The last few games I've been getting those off-speed pitches and rolling right through them and staying right through them. A 3-2, you're shooting fastball and you see the changeup and stay back, it's always good."
Wedge tabs youthful Montero to catch Millwood
SEATTLE -- After solid outings, a pitcher often will give credit to the catcher for calling a great game. But how many signs really come from the catcher, and how often does a pitcher dictate what is thrown?
Mariners manager Eric Wedge is a big proponent of the guy behind the dish running things, but the former Major League catcher knows it isn't that simple.
"I'm a big believer in the catcher running the ballgame, but the pitcher's going to throw what he wants," Wedge said. "That's where the communication has to come in, that's where the relationship is a big part of it, that's where the preparation comes into play and that's also being in the moment and recognizing what's happening with each particular at-bat."
But even that can change when veterans start working with young players. For the second time this season, Wedge did just that when Kevin Millwood took the mound. Millwood, 37, threw to Jesus Montero, 22, on Tuesday night, just as he did in his season debut April 11 in Texas.
This was Montero's third start behind the plate this season, as Wedge gave regular Miguel Olivo the night off. The team's third catcher, John Jaso, filled the designated hitter's role that Montero normally occupies.
But with a pitcher who has 16 Major League seasons under his belt throwing to a first-year player, Wedge acknowledged Millwood might be the decision-maker more often Tuesday.
"I think that if you got a veteran guy on the mound, he's going to throw what he wants to throw," Wedge said. "I think that regardless of who you are on the mound, you got to throw what you want to throw because there's got to be conviction behind it. But ultimately, if you've got a veteran catcher versus a young pitcher, or the other way around, it usually sways in that direction.
"But as a catcher, I put the responsibility on the catcher to be prepared, to understand what a particular pitcher wants to do in a particular situation, understanding what his strengths are and how we're going to work from there -- that's where the relationship comes into play."
Mariners enjoy off day at home
SEATTLE -- The Mariners were able to enjoy something Monday that they hadn't experienced yet this season: an off day in Seattle.
The free day gave players a chance to settle into their homes and see their families. Pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen didn't have to spend much time moving into a new home because his wife had already completed most of it, so he took the opportunity to go sightseeing.
Manager Eric Wedge took the day to celebrate a special occasion, as his daughter Ava turned 6 on Tuesday.
"We celebrated a little bit yesterday and celebrated again today and she'll celebrate again tonight -- they're here at the game," he said with a smile. "Birthdays are big in the Wedge household."
• Mariners manager Eric Wedge said outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a partially torn pectoral muscle, continues to throw and hit in his rehab. There is not yet a timetable on his return, as the Mariners want to make sure he's ready to play because he missed most of Spring Training.
• Outfielder Mike Carp, on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained shoulder, is continuing his rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma in the designated hitter role. Wedge said Carp will continue to rehab until he can play in the outfield as well. Carp was eligible to come off the DL on Friday.
• Entering Tuesday's game with the Indians, many of the Mariners enjoyed success at the plate against Cleveland. The current Seattle roster had gone a combined 58-for-195 (.297) against the Indians, led by third baseman Kyle Seager's 12-for-17 (.706).