Smolinski has extra motivation vs. former club

Former Rangers outfielder swinging a hot bat

Smolinski has extra motivation vs. former club

OAKLAND -- Bob Melvin first saw Jake Smolinski's ability during the outfielder's rookie season with the Rangers, and is seeing it resurface again two years later. Fortunately for Melvin, Smolinski is now on his side.

Smolinski belted a two-run homer in the third inning of Wednesday's 7-5 loss to his former team. He's hitting .319 in 21 games, riding a six-game hitting streak -- with a .500 average over that stretch -- and has started the last four games, all against left-handed pitchers. 

"He's looked good and the numbers would suggest that too," Melvin said. "We've known that all along, that given a little bit of an opportunity, he's going to hit. We saw it firsthand in '14 against us. He has the ability, for sure. … When he's on a roll right now it seems like he's putting good at-bats together every time up, hitting the ball hard, has a simple approach at the plate. He has a lot of confidence working right now."

Smolinski hit .370 against Oakland in seven games in 2014, including a .462 average at the Coliseum, and belted two of his three homers that year against the A's. He batted .349 as a rookie in 86 at-bats, but couldn't reclaim those numbers in 2015, hitting .133 before being designated for assignment in July.

The A's claimed Smolinski, but a steady opportunity in the Majors never developed, and he spent much of the last year going between Triple-A and Oakland. When Josh Reddick went on the disabled list last month with a thumb injury, at-bats finally opened up, and the 27-year-old is quietly regaining form.

Smolinski posted a .167 average in his first seven games, but is hitting .414 in the 14 games since. He's been productive in a limited role against lefties, and is striking out in 15.4 percent of his at-bats, almost 11 percent less than his rookie season. 

Smolinski attributed his success to a sound and consistent approach.

"I'm not really looking at that. I'm just trying to be ready. Prepare myself every day no matter what the situation is and just try to compete and put up good at-bats, regardless of whether we're seeing four lefties in a row or I'm pinch-hitting," he said.

It doesn't hurt some of his recent streak has come at the expense of his former team, either.

"I think when anybody plays an old team, they want to do well," he said. "I still have a lot of friends over there. It's the first organization that gave me a chance in the big leagues, so I appreciate my time with them. It's fun to play against old teammates and coaches."

Reddick could go on a rehab assignment as early as next week, meaning an outfielder logjam is imminent. But Smolinski's ability to hit left-handers, combined with his improved approach in recent games, has certainly worked him into the team's conversation moving forward.

Mark Chiarelli is a reporter for MLB.com based in Oakland. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.