BOSTON -- It's been a tough go for Justin Smoak this season, but the first baseman has heated up over the last four games and appears to be gaining some momentum.
Smoak went 2-for-4 with a double in Monday's 6-1 loss and has gone 8-for-16 over the last four games heading into Tuesday to lift his average 41 points to .214.
Monday's ninth-inning double, on the heels of a home run in Sunday's 6-2 win at Yankee Stadium, are positive signs for the big first baseman. He'd gone 14 games without an extra-base hit prior to Sunday, with his last one being a home run in Detroit on April 26.
The Mariners need Smoak in the middle of their lineup, but manager Eric Wedge dropped him to seventh two weeks ago and now has him hitting sixth.
"I'm encouraged by what we're seeing with him, because what we're seeing is real, with his approach and mindset," Wedge said. "That's good."
Now the question is how soon Wedge might move Smoak back up in the middle of the order, which he admits would help his lineup construction immensely.
"That was one of the things I liked about it to begin with, having a switch-hitter with some power, because we are a little left-handed heavy," said Wedge, "but I'm not going to be in a hurry with that. I do want him to end up there at some point in time. He's just going to have to handle those expectations and keep focused on what he needs to do to be successful."
Ichiro staying put at No. 3 spot for now
BOSTON -- Though manager Eric Wedge has mentioned several times in recent days that Ichiro Suzuki isn't a "prototypical" No. 3 hitter in his lineup, he said Tuesday there is no immediate plan to move the veteran hitter.
Wedge shifted Ichiro from his leadoff spot at the start of the season in part because he wanted to give Chone Figgins a chance to revive his career hitting No. 1. That experiment didn't work, and Figgins is now filling a utility role and rarely playing.
As for whether he'd move Ichiro up or down now, Wedge declined to say.
"I'm not going to have that conversation with you guys before I have a conversation with him," Wedge said. "But right now, my focus is for him to be more productive in the three-hole. He's a smart guy. There's nothing I need to say to him. He has his unique approach to hitting and it has to work.
"But I'd like him to be a little more timely, particularly late in ballgames. He's the one veteran guy we have in the lineup and we need him to help pick up these young kids."
Ichiro is hitting .291 with 13 RBIs, but just .206 in 34 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Wedge said he likes Dustin Ackley in the leadoff role right now, which seems to indicate that returning Ichiro to that role is not in his current thinking.
Gutierrez remains sidelined by heel issue
BOSTON -- Oft-injured center fielder Franklin Gutierrez continues undergoing treatment on plantar fasciitis in a heel, which figures to delay his return to the Mariners until at least late June, manager Eric Wedge said Tuesday.
The former Gold Glove outfielder is on the 15-day disabled list while recovering from a torn pectoral muscle suffered early in Spring Training. He's now able to throw and hit without a problem, but the heel issue will keep him off his feet almost another two weeks.
"He's having treatments and will have another on Monday, the third one on his heel," said Wedge. "After that, he'll not run for another week and hopefully then we can get him going again."
Once Gutierrez is healthy, he'll likely spend a few days in Arizona working out, then go out on a 20-day Minor League rehab assignment. That means a best-case scenario would have him out until late June, if he has no further problems.
Wedge said Gutierrez's absence has been a tough hurdle to overcome.
"It's big. It's measurable," Wedge said. "You see that void in the two-hole and the void from the right side. It's a legitimate void for us, without a doubt. And it has been [all season]."
Alex Liddi wasn't in the lineup Tuesday, as manager Eric Wedge went with a lefty-heavy batting order against Boston's Josh Beckett, but Wedge said he wants to play the rookie third baseman more and will have him in against some right-handers.
Wedge said Liddi could possibly be used at shortstop at some point, a position he played a few games in Triple-A Tacoma last year, and left field is also an option.
Catcher Miguel Olivo, on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained groin muscle, has been catching bullpen sessions in Tacoma, Wash., and will continue working out at Safeco Field now with the Rainiers heading out on the road.
Wedge said Olivo will be watched for a few days when the Mariners return to Seattle on Monday after their current road trip, and he then will be sent out on a Minor League rehab assignment.
Top-pitching prospect Taijuan Walker was removed from Double-A Jackson's game on Monday with a sprained right ankle in the third inning after getting his cleat caught on the mound running to cover first base.
Walker was feeling better on Tuesday and is considered day to day, with his next start scheduled for Saturday if he's deemed ready to go.