PEORIA, Ariz. -- Looking to carry his strong 2012 finish over into the new season, Justin Smoak got off to a nice start when he homered in his first Cactus League game Saturday with a powerful shot to right-center field against the Padres.
Smoak knows it's just Spring Training and the real tests will come later, but it never hurts to start well and build confidence in the sunshine of Arizona.
Smoak, who didn't play in Sunday's game, went 1-for-3 in Saturday's contest. He struck out in his first at-bat, reached on an error and then ripped a 3-1 fastball from Brad Boxberger onto the berm in right field.
"It's always good to square balls up early on," Smoak said. "I knew after my first couple at-bats I was a little quick and I just needed to let the ball travel a little farther. That's what I went up there my third at-bat trying to do."
The ball traveled much farther once Smoak unloaded.
"That was loud," said manager Eric Wedge. "That was probably the loudest hit of the day and good to see. He's a lot stronger. You look at what he's doing up there from a mechanical standpoint, he's really looking to lock that in. He picked it up at the end of last year and was able to be consistent with it and he's been able to be consistent with it here early on, as well."
Smoak's shot came when he was hitting left-handed, which is the side he's gotten most of his work on early in the spring, given the number of right-handers in camp.
As for his swing?
"It's feeling better," he said. "It's still a work in progress, but this is as close as I've felt to being where I want to be for quite a while. So, it's getting better."
Ibanez credits Hansen for good spring start
PEORIA, Ariz. -- A day after Jason Bay said his swing feels better than it has for several years, Raul Ibanez echoed a similar sentiment as he kick-started his return to the Mariners with a three-run blast off former teammate Freddy Garcia to highlight Seattle's 8-3 win over the Padres on Sunday.
Ibanez has had better success in recent years than Bay, so it's significant to hear the 40-year-old say he's feeling locked in early after going 2-for-3 with three RBIs in his second Cactus League game since rejoining the Mariners.
Ibanez said reuniting with new Seattle hitting coach Dave Hansen -- another former Mariners teammate -- has been a boon.
"Spring Training is a strange time, because there could be one day you feel pretty good and the next day you don't. It kind of goes back and forth like that," said Ibanez. "The idea is to build consistency. I definitely feel better this spring than I have the last couple springs at the plate, and part of that has been some of the stuff Dave Hansen has been working on with me.
"He was obviously here with me in '04 and '05, and I used to go to him quite a bit in the dugout about hitting stuff. So we have a really nice relationship over the years and he's mentioned some stuff and we're working on some things."
Ibanez was less kind to Garcia, whom he played with in 1999-2000 when Garcia first came up with the Mariners, again in '04 when he returned to Seattle and last year when the two were together with the Yankees. The veteran outfielder spoke well of "The Chief," but didn't treat him as well on the field when he smoked an 0-1 fastball deep over the right-field wall for a three-run blast that was one of five straight hits off Garcia.
"He's a good buddy of mine," Ibanez said. "We had first and second with no out and I was just looking for a pitch that I could hit hard somewhere. I thought he might throw something else. With him, he throws so many different pitches and he's got a great forkball/split thing. I thought he might throw it there, but he didn't, and I was able to get the fat part of the bat on it.
"I haven't faced him for a while, but he's a great competitor and I have the utmost respect for him because I've seen him where he's successful throwing 97 or 98 [mph], and he's learned how to be successful throwing 87."
Erasmo sharp in first spring performance
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, competing for a spot in the Mariners' rotation, got off to a nice start with a quick inning of work in Seattle's 8-3 victory over the Padres on Sunday.
The 22-year-old gave up a single to standout third baseman Chase Headley, but otherwise zipped through a 15-pitch first frame in which he threw 11 strikes while mixing his curve and changeup in with a fastball in the 91-93 mph range.
"I was working to mix pitches and not just throw fastballs," said the youngster from Nicaragua. "Today was different. I was getting ahead with the fastball, but I had to practice my breaking balls. For me, it was a good inning and good start for Spring Training, and hopefully it'll continue. Just pounding the strike zone, that's my goal."
Ramirez is one of several pitchers competing for Seattle's fourth and fifth starting spots. He went 1-3 with a 3.36 ERA in 16 appearances last year as a rookie, including eight starts in which he looked very good until suffering from elbow soreness.
That experience puts him in good stead this spring to compete for a rotation berth.
"His arsenal of pitches is why we feel strong about him as a starter," said manager Eric Wedge. "We know he can pitch out of the bullpen, too, if we need him to. But we look at him as a starter just because of the way he can compete against big league hitters over the course of six, seven, eight innings. It's just about the experience he gained last year, particularly at the end of the year when he was starting, and the way he threw the baseball."
• Jeremy Bonderman is scheduled to start Monday's game against the Angels in Peoria, his first game as he attempts to come back from arm problems that have sidelined him since 2010. Hisashi Iwakuma will start Tuesday when the Mariners play their first road game of the spring against the Brewers in Maryvale, with Joe Saunders pitching in that game as well, as he makes his Mariners debut.
• Monday's game is not on the radio, one of the few Cactus League games not available. This week's games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will be broadcast on a delayed basis on 710 ESPN Seattle at 7 p.m. PT, but will be streamed live for free on Mariners.com. The three weekend games, Friday-Sunday, are back live on 710 ESPN.
• ROOT Sports will televise six Cactus League games this spring, the first coming Monday, March 4, against the Rockies at 12:05 p.m. PT (12:05 p.m. PT).
• Dustin Ackley and Brendan Ryan will see their first Cactus League action Monday when the Mariners host the Angels. The two are being brought back slowly from offseason surgeries, with Ackley having bone spurs removed from his left ankle and Ryan having a similar procedure on his right elbow.
• The Mariners will throw their top two young pitching prospects back-to-back in Wednesday's game against the Indians in Goodyear. Left-hander Danny Hultzen will start that 12:05 p.m. PT game, followed by right-hander Taijuan Walker. It will be the second appearance of the spring for both.