NEW YORK -- When you've been scuffling like Justin Smoak in recent weeks, you look for positive signs of any fashion. And a three-hit game in Friday's 6-2 loss to the Yankees was a welcome signal for the first baseman, who'd needed nine games to accumulate his previous three hits.
The Mariners need Smoak's bat to heat up, but they also need him to relax and not suffocate himself trying to save a slow-starting season. So manager Eric Wedge has maintained positive support for the youngster, and both he and Smoak were happy to see the trio of singles Friday, even if the last one was simply a slow roller up the third-base line.
The start of better things ahead?
"Yeah, I hope so," said Smoak, whose batting average bumped up 20 points to .193. "I've gotten three hits before. But it's something to build off of."
Wedge stuck with Smoak even after he went 3-for-30 over the previous nine games, including a 2-for-20 homestand. The skipper has dropped Smoak to seventh in the batting order, but he believes in the promise of a player touted as one of the premier prospects in baseball two years ago.
"I felt the first two hits were better," Wedge said. "The ball came off his bat better, both the one to right field and the one back up the middle. Those are good signs, and then he got the rolling hit there, too. All that adds up.
"I was really encouraged by his swings and where he's hitting the baseball and how it was coming off the bat. Hopefully he has something to work off of now. He doesn't have to get it all back in one day. He just needs to move in the right direction, and that was definitely a step in the right way."
Smoak said he felt better after taking some advice from Wedge in batting practice.
"I've been worrying so much about my hands and staying back and not getting out there," he said. "The big thing is Wedgie came out and we talked, and he said, 'Try to hit it out of the pitcher's hand. Get your arms extended and try to hit everything out in front, don't think about trying to pull everything, just try to hit everything out front.'
"For some reason, it got me back to where I wasn't feeling all caught on my backside. I was more loose."
Smoak's first two hits came hitting left-handed against right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda, with the infield single in the ninth from the opposite side against lefty Boone Logan. He's now hitting .226 for the season while batting from the left side (19-for-84) and .100 from the right side (3-for-30).
Struggling Ryan sits as Wedge seeks answers
NEW YORK -- After an 0-for-4 night Friday that dropped his batting average to .149, Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan found himself on the bench Saturday against the Yankees. And manager Eric Wedge sounded as if his patience is growing thin.
Utility infielder Munenori Kawasaki started Saturday at shortstop.
"He needs a day. I need a day," said Wedge. "We'll get Kawasaki in there against the right-hander, and then we'll see where we are tomorrow. I've been trying to give him every opportunity in that two-hole. He's been playing his you-know-what-off defensively.
"I'd prefer to have a right-hander between those two left-handers [Dustin Ackley and Ichiro Suzuki] or they'll just run right through you, but with [Chone] Figgins in a different role now, [Franklin] Gutierrez isn't here and Ryan not getting it done, my options are limited."
Ryan is a career .256 hitter but has yet to get going this season. He didn't get the ball out of the infield in four at-bats Friday, including a critical strikeout with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth during a 6-2 loss to the Yanks.
"He's got to be able to defend himself at home plate, which he didn't do last night," Wedge said. "He's got to be able to go up there and compete. You just can't be an out. You've got to do more than that."
Ryan's outstanding glove has kept him in the lineup, but Wedge said "there are limits to it" in regards to being an offensive liability. He declined to put a number on that, but acknowledged what he's seeing right now isn't cutting it.
"There's no reason he shouldn't be better than that, unless he's totally swimming in his own brain up there, making it more difficult for himself," said Wedge. "And that's exactly what he's doing right now.
"He's trying to spread out and see the ball and he's not seeing the ball. He's pulling off and not putting himself in a good position to cover the plate. He knows all this. He's not 25 years old. He's 30 years old. And it's time for him to figure out what he needs to do to be successful. I can't be any more honest than that."
Carp's arm quiets any lingering doubts
NEW YORK -- When left fielder Mike Carp gunned down Alex Rodriguez at home plate in the fourth inning of Friday's 6-2 loss to the Yankees, it did more than prevent a run in what at the time was a 1-1 ballgame. The throw answered any remaining questions about Carp's right shoulder, which he'd sprained on Opening Day in Tokyo.
"A lot of hard work and frustration went into that throw," said Carp, who spent a month on the disabled list before returning 10 days ago. "I'd only had a handful of throws, and that was usually just hitting [shortstop Brendan] Ryan.
"It was nice to just let it go and not feel anything. I had another throw later in the game in the eighth that was even more strenuous because I had to throw on the run. It felt good and definitely helps me out mindset-wise, knowing it's not going to bother me."
Carp has made several nice running catches in left field in his time back as well and said he feels like an outfielder now, after coming up primarily as a first baseman with the Mets.
"I'm a left fielder by trade now," he said. "I've been there a year and a half, and all the hard work is starting to pay off. I'm getting better reads, getting to more balls and it's a lot of fun being out there. This is home for me now. It's second nature and I can just go out there and play."
Carp's throw was his first outfield assist of the season and just the fourth for any Mariners outfielder.
"You just wait for your turn," he said. "You hope you don't have that many throws at the plate because that means we're not doing so well. But you want to be ready when the time comes."
When Kevin Millwood faces Andy Pettitte in Sunday's series finale at Yankee Stadium, their combined 403 career victories will be the highest win total of any two starting pitchers so far this season in the Majors.
Pettitte, making his season debut for the Yankees, ranks second among active pitchers with 240 wins. Millwood, still looking for his first victory for Seattle, is ninth on the active list with 163 wins. The previous high for two starters this year was 401 when the Rockies' Jamie Moyer (268) took on the Mets' Johan Santana (133) on April 29.
Going into Saturday's games, Jesus Montero led American League rookies in hits (31), runs (11) and total bases (51), was tied for first in home runs (five), doubles (five) and extra-base hits (10) and was four behind Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes in RBIs (17) in 30 games.
Right-hander Andrew Carraway, promoted from Double-A Jackson this week, made his Triple-A debut with Tacoma on Friday night and threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings with just one hit in the Rainiers' 4-0 victory over Albuquerque at Cheney Stadium.