When it comes to clutch hitting, it is usually measured in quality over quantity. In Seth Smith’s case, it has been both.
The hottest hitter on the team has a knack for getting the job done when it counts. Look no further than his first at bat as a Padre, a home run on Opening Night that helped the Friars beat the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It’s fun to come through, but I approach it all the same way,” Smith said of hitting in tight situations. “I see every at bat the same. I try to give the same effort and focus.”
Since then, Smith has been hands down the best hitter on the roster, even if he wasn’t even assured of a role before the season started.
The man who came over from the Oakland A’s in an offseason deal for reliever Luke Gregerson didn’t have a regular spot in the lineup to start the season. He isn’t even listed on the All-Star ballot.
Yet all he’s done is lead the Padres in nearly every major hitting category. His .338 batting average is second in all of baseball. When the team needs a hit, he's been the one to provide it -- even if nobody else is doing all that much at the plate.
“He’s been on a nice roll, especially the last couple weeks,” Padres manager Bud Black said. "The only guy really hitting consistently is Smitty."
Talk about an understatement. Smith has a slash line (average/slugging/OPS) of .439/.529/.842 in May. He was named the National League Player of the Week for the week of May 11 after going 14-for-28 with a homer, five doubles and three triples.
“It’s really nice to play well and be recognized. But it doesn’t change anything,” the ever-humble Smith said of his first career POW award. “It’s May. There’s still four months to go. We have a lot of at bats left.”
His reputation as a clutch hitter came about from his first taste of the big leagues. He was called up by the Colorado Rockies in September of 2007, batting a whopping .625 as the team won 21 of 22 games and made a run to the World Series. He even scored a run in the tie-breaker game against the Padres that sent Colorado to the playoffs.
His knack for hits in the clutch continued as he homered in the playoffs each of the past two years for the A’s.
But Smith claims there’s nothing to the concept of “clutch” hitting.
“It just depends on the situation,” he said. “If you got a guy on second, you have different things to do than with nobody on. You just have to approach it like that.”
Black credits Smith’s ability to be more than a one-pitch hitter for much of his success.
“Seth always had the ability to hit the fastball,” Black said. “But he’s laying off the breaking ball. His pitch selection has been outstanding. He’s not afraid to hit with two strikes.”
And what about the triples? After going more than 600 at bats without one, Smith hit three in the span of 20 at bats, putting him among the league leaders. As usual, he deflected the attention from his accomplishments.
“Triples aren’t something you try to do,” Smith said. “I just keep running until they tell me to stop.”