Smoak crushes spring slump with pair of homers

Switch-hitting first baseman goes deep twice vs. Rays after entering game with only two hits

Smoak crushes spring slump with pair of homers

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Justin Smoak broke out of his spring slump in a big way Friday afternoon by hitting a pair of home runs in Toronto's 11-5 victory over the Rays.

Smoak entered the day with two hits and seven strikeouts in 26 at-bats. He had been struggling to make consistent contact, but the game against the Rays marked the return of the power that general manager Alex Anthopoulos frequently referenced after signing him during the offseason.

The 28-year-old went deep in the third inning off right-hander Burch Smith. Two innings later, Smoak struck again with another shot to right, and the ball went so far that it traveled over the bullpen, beyond a walkway and onto the roof of the Rays' office building.

"I think for me, it's just more about getting consistent at-bats from one side or the other," the switch-hitter Smoak said after the game. "This Spring Training more than any other, it's been one left-hander, one right-hander, one left-hander. To get that feel today, five [at-bats] in a row from the left side, it felt good, and I felt like I was just in a better position to hit."

Despite the slow start this spring, Smoak continues to be the favorite to win the starting job at first base. There should be at least semi-regular at-bats available as the club keeps a close eye on Edwin Encarnacion, who will need to start some games at DH because of a chronic back issue.

Smoak's top competition comes from Daric Barton, while Danny Valencia could be used as a platoon partner for either hitter. A dark horse in the race might be Dayan Viciedo, but the return of the power stroke from Smoak should put a little bit of distance between him and the rest of the pack.

More importantly, it's something to build off of, and Smoak insists he's not getting caught up in who's competing for what spot.

"For me, it's just go out and play," said Smoak, who hit at least 15 home runs in three of the past four years. "If I go out and play hard, I have nothing to worry about. It is what it is, and you just have to keep going out, working and seeing what happens at the end."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.