OAKLAND -- Justin Smoak spent the last couple of years as the whipping boy for a Blue Jays fanbase that wanted changes at first base. Now he's in the middle of a breakout season and should be considered a strong contender for the upcoming All-Star Game presented by MasterCard in
OAKLAND -- Justin Smoak spent the last couple of years as the whipping boy for a Blue Jays fanbase that wanted changes at first base. Now he's in the middle of a breakout season and should be considered a strong contender for the upcoming All-Star Game presented by MasterCard in Miami.
Smoak was one of the main reasons the Blue Jays were able to avoid a three-game sweep in Oakland with a 7-5 victory in 10 innings on Wednesday afternoon. He finished with a pair of homers, which leaves him at 17 on the season and just three shy of matching his career high.
There was a time when the two-year, $8.5 million extension Smoak signed last July was heavily criticized. Not anymore. All of a sudden he has become a major bargain by helping the Blue Jays stay afloat in May and early June despite all of the injuries, as he's now approaching the 20-homer plateau before the dog days of summer have really even begun.
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"It's still a work in progress, but I've done some good work in the early going," said Smoak, who picked up his first multi-homer game since May 3, 2016. "It feels good ... but what are we in, June right now? There's still a long ways to go, so it's a matter of being able to have competitive at-bats day in and day out."
Smoak's power has never been in doubt. It was one of the things that got him to the big leagues, and it was the main reason Toronto acquired the switch-hitter prior to the start of the 2015 season. The surprising part of this season, though, has been his ability to make consistent contact, hit for a higher average and drive the ball to all parts of the field instead of just remaining pull happy.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons believes one reason that's changed is that Smoak has shortened his swing from the left side of the plate. That is helping him get to more balls, but Smoak's also continuing to homer from the right side of the plate as well. The days of needing a platoon partner are over, as he's hit .390 with four homers in 41 at-bats from the right side to go along with 13 homers and 32 RBIs from the left side.
"Smoak has been amazing," Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "Seventeenth homer today. He hit 15 last year, we're not even halfway through the season, and he's already accomplished hitting more homers than he did all of last year. He's doing a great job on both sides of the ball. Honestly, we need more people to continue stepping up, to continue going out there to produce for this team."
Both of Smoak's home runs on Wednesday -- which came from the left side -- were no doubters. According to Statcast™, his solo shot in the second inning was projected to travel 408 feet and his solo shot in the 10th was projected to go 423 feet. That marked the fifth multi-homer game of his career, and he entered play on Wednesday already leading all American League first basemen with a .913 OPS.
"I really can't describe it, nobody has ever seen him this good with us," Gibbons said. "It's just all coming together for him, I think. He's swinging at strikes. He got himself into the past, he'd chase out of zone an awful lot. His swing looks good from both sides of the plate and he's confident. There's no doubt he's always had the power, but now he's really turned into a hitter too, and I think that's a big part of it."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.