Justin Smoak, long considered a bust as a first-round pick, went off for a career-high 38 home runs last season, and it's rather difficult to poke holes in his performance. In his age-30 campaign, Smoak trimmed his strikeout rate by more than 11 percentage points (to 20.1 percent) while adding 138 points to his slugging percentage (.529 SLG). As Smoak explained to Travis Sawchik of FanGraphs, he learned to lay off more pitches outside the strike zone -- particularly the curveball -- and was better at making contact with pitches out of the zone when he did swing at them. While Smoak's batting average fell to .241 in the second half, he improved his walk rate considerably after the break (from 9.3 percent to 13.8 percent) while maintaining a strikeout rate right around 20 percent. He hit from both sides of the plate and his home/road splits were marginal. Playing time concerns are justified, but we're buying into Smoak's development as a player.
Smoak is not in the Blue Jays' lineup Friday, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reports. The breakout star has cooled this month and will get a breather in the matinee game. Kendrys Morales is released from his designated hitter spot and will don a glove at first base in his place. Smoak sports a .272/.358/.534 line with 38 home runs, 90 RBI and 85 runs scored for 2017.
Smoak went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a walk in Tuesday's victory over the Orioles. The first baseman's third-inning RBI came on his 24th double of the year, matching his career high set as a Mariner in 2011. Smoak's 86 RBI this season rank second among AL first baseman, as does his .913 OPS. Tuesday's effort might be just what the 30-year-old needed to get back on track after a few down weeks.
Smoak is out of the lineup Monday against the Orioles, Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet.ca reports. Smoak, who's hitting .278/.358/.550 for the year, is in the midst of a rough stretch at the plate. Over the last 14 games, he's gone just 7-for-44 (.159) and posted an underwhelming .288 OBP. He'll get the night off while Kendrys Morales fills in at first base.
Smoak (calf) is back in the lineup Wednesday against the Red Sox. Smoak was held out of the starting nine Tuesday due to lingering calf soreness, but he ended up logging five plate appearances off the bench in the 19-inning marathon. The 30-year-old is in the midst of a career year -- he has a great shot at 40 homers, and if he gets there, he will have doubled his previous career high.
Smoak, who is not in the lineup for Tuesday's game due to a bruised calf, is available off the bench, Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com reports. Smoak is apparently dealing with some lingering soreness after fouling a ball off his calf Monday, but seeing as he's available off the bench, it doesn't seem like he will be out of the lineup for too long. Steve Pearce is starting at first base in his stead.