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McClendon wants Smoak to hit more doubles

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has raised a few eyebrows this spring by mentioning several times that his goal for Justin Smoak is to have the young first baseman lead the American League in doubles.

That's a bold statement about a player who has hit 61 doubles in 416 games over his three-plus years as a Mariner, which is just 10 more than Baltimore's Manny Machado totaled just last season, leading the league.

But McClendon's point is simple. He wants Smoak looking to be a hitter driving the ball to all fields, not just a guy looking to yank it out of the park. And if initial impressions are worth anything, Smoak has taken the message to heart.

The 27-year-old from South Carolina smoked a line shot halfway off the batter's eye in center field in Peoria Stadium on Saturday off Angels standout C.J. Wilson. The drive would have easily been a home run in most situations, but bounded off the high wall and gave Smoak his second double in as many games as he's come out of the gate hitting 3-for-4 with a walk in his first five at-bats this spring.

"It's the second game of the spring and we've got a long way to go," Smoak said Sunday. "But at the same time, it's good to see some of the stuff I've been working on show up here in the early going."

Cactus League numbers don't mean a whole lot in the big picture, but for Smoak, they're reinforcement of the approach he's taken, and are a welcome sight for his new skipper as well.

"I just see good at-bats," McClendon said. "I see a purpose in BP. He's focused. I don't think he's concerned about hitting home runs in batting practice. He's working on trying to be a good hitter and I just continue to pound home with him, I just want him to lead the league in doubles. If he does that, he'll be doing a lot of things right."

What makes McClendon think that's even remotely possible for a guy who hit 19 doubles in 131 games last season, along with 20 homers?

"He's a big, strong kid with a powerful swing," McClendon said. "He generates bat speed. We're just trying to clean up his [swing] path and get him to understand that he needs to be a good hitter and not a home run hitter. Home runs are a byproduct of being a good hitter. But when you try to put the cart before the horse, then you've got problems. We're just trying to get that horse out front again and let him lead. And he's doing OK."

Smoak said his double off Wilson was "one of the better swings I've taken right-handed in a long time." And that is particularly encouraging for the switch-hitter, given he struggled from his natural right side most of last year.

"One thing about right-handed, I'm not trying to pull anything," he said. "I'm trying to hit the other way and up the middle. If I get one inside, then it's just reaction. The last few years I've gone up there feeling strong, with it being my natural side, and feeling like I can pull everything. It's one of those things where I'm just trying to get out of that and use the whole field."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
Read More: Seattle Mariners, Justin Smoak