There’s really no particularly good time for a baseball player (or anyone, really) to injury their oblique, but for Seattle Mariners‘ Justin Smoak, the ailment he suffered on Saturday could not have come at a more inopportune time.
The former Texas Rangers top prospect, who’d long been a disappointment in his time with the M’s, was coming into what was arguably a make-or-break 2013 season: he could either follow up his torrid pace at the plate to close 2012, or be face with the dreaded “bust” label at just 26-years old.
Though the .237/.333/.309 triple-slash he posted over this first 111 PA in April had his fate leaning towards the latter, things were slowly turning around for the first baseman as the end of April approached.
No, Smoak didn’t come close to showing the breakout form that he had in September of last season, but he’d finished off the month with a pair of multi-hit games, and the power was coming back as he’d upped his slugging percentage by over 100 points in May, en route to posting a .250/.382/.411 line in 68 PA thus far.
Okay, so a .793 OPS doesn’t make him a star among first baseman, but his biggest improvement — his walk rate going from 11.7 percent to 17.6 in the month — was as good of an omen as any that he was seeing the ball better, and that the rest would eventually come around.
Smoak had just come off another multi-hit outing when he hurt his oblique on a check-swing on Saturday, and his 0-for-3 performance before being removed from the game in the eighth was hardly a surprise as he’d tried to play through the ailment, according to Mariners manager Eric Wedge.
It bears repeating the oblique injuries are not exactly the quickest things to heal, and though the the issue does not seem to a major concern at the time (though he’s not in the lineup for Sunday), that he might continue to tough it out might not be too conducive to hopes of sustained success.
Even with 23-year-old Jesus Montero all but done at catcher and potentially looking to get time at first base in the minors, Smoak’s job isn’t in jeopardy yet. That said, having his momentum and comfort level potentially cut off by an injury isn’t going to help much either.