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Mariners confident new fences will attract hitters

SEATTLE -- Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak says the tough hitting environment at Safeco Field has long been a topic of conversation at the ballpark. And not just among Seattle's players.

"Every time a guy gets on first base, that's all they talk about, how terrible this place is to hit," said the Mariners first baseman. "Everybody hates hitting here. But it is what it is."

But what it is will change a bit next year as the club announced Tuesday it's bringing in the outfield fences, particularly in the tough left-center gap, in an effort to make the 13-year-old stadium a fairer park for hitters.

And Smoak, a young power hitter who has struggled much of the time since getting traded to Seattle from the Rangers three years ago, said it will be good both in attracting free agents to the Mariners as well as for the club's own returning nucleus.

"I'm sure there are a lot of guys out there that have declined coming here because of that reason," he said. "This should definitely change some things. Everybody is excited about it. The biggest thing is mentally, confidence-wise, for guys who hit a ball well and it gets caught at the wall or dies at the track. Those kind of things can change your day around and can change the team's day around."

Rookie catcher Jesus Montero went from hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium to Safeco this season and has hit 15 home runs with a .256 average. He was all smiles Tuesday upon hearing the news.

"Awesome," said the 22-year-old. "Everybody knows this is a big park. It's going to be a little tougher for our pitchers, but it's like Yankee Stadium or Boston or everywhere else now. Right now this is the biggest park in the league. It's crazy. This is good news for us as hitters."

Has he been frustrated at times in Seattle?

"I'm not going to lie," said Montero. "Yes. Everybody knows sometimes you crush a ball and think it's gone and it's not. This will give more confidence to the team and offense will be a little better. It'll help us win more games. It'll be better next year."

Outfielder Mike Carp, a left-handed hitter, says the alterations will help southpaws as well, even with less dramatic adjustments to the right-field fence. And he has no doubt it will help the big picture for the Mariners.

"It'll be good for the organization, make it more attractive here," Carp said. "It's been hard to bring players here because guys want to put up numbers. At the same time, we know we have a big park and the wind that comes in here sometimes. But you play with the elements and do the best you can.

"It'll be interesting to see what effect it has next year. With the younger guys who have grown up here the last couple years, it's going to give guys a chance to be a little more successful."

As for Seattle's pitchers? They were less enthusiastic, obviously, but no less supportive after being given the least run support in the American League for the past four seasons.

"I have no problem with it," said Felix Hernandez. "If guys hit home runs against me, it's going to go out anywhere. And if it's going to help my teammates and they're not trying to swing harder than they should, it's going to be better for the team.

"I've heard guys saying, 'I hate this ballpark. It's way too big.' So this is going to help us."

Even left-hander Jason Vargas took the team-first approach, even though he figures to be impacted as dramatically as anyone given the adjustments should favor right-handed hitters that have typically struggled against him in Seattle.

"It's not a big deal at all," Vargas said. "It's good for our hitters, it's good for our team. And it's still Seattle, it's still cold. The dimensions don't change how I feel about this place and how I can pitch here. They're just making some changes trying to help the ballclub.

"The more runs you get and better at-bats your team puts up, the better your pitchers are going to feel about going out there and giving you a chance to win."

The mental factor could be as significant as anything for the young Mariners hitters. Michael Saunders noted that balls tend to carry better for hitters who are relaxed and that sometimes is difficult for some at Safeco, a fact echoed by many of his teammates.

"No doubt," said Smoak. "You go up there one time and square one up well and it gets caught at the warning track, the next time you go up trying to hit it harder. You're doing it to yourself then, so it's one of those things that mentally can make a big difference."

How many of his drives has Smoak seen caught at the warning track?

"I don't know," he said with a smile. "I stopped counting. A few too many. The first thing I asked when they told us: 'Are they doing it tonight or what?'"

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
Read More: Seattle Mariners, Jason Vargas, Michael Saunders, Felix Hernandez, Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak, Mike Carp