Hitting flip tosses, Smoak nears rehab assignment

Hitting flip tosses, Smoak nears rehab assignment

Hitting flip tosses, Smoak nears rehab assignment

SEATTLE -- First baseman Justin Smoak took some left-handed swings Monday and said he's close to being ready to return to action, though the Mariners plan to send him out on a Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma before he rejoins the club.

The switch-hitting Smoak, out since May 30 with a strained oblique muscle in his right side, has been hitting off a tee for the past few days and took full swings on flip tosses Monday in the batting cage for the first time.

"Everything felt good," Smoak said. "I was finally able to let it go a little bit today. Right-handed has felt fine, it's just been left-handed that I've been worried about. It's more just my mind letting it go on that left side. Now we'll take batting practice tomorrow in the field and go from there."

The Mariners would like to get Smoak back and healthy as Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales have also been hampered by injuries the past week. Morse, battling a strained right quad, was at designated hitter again Monday against the Astros.

Manager Eric Wedge said if Smoak was healthy, Morse would likely be on the disabled list, himself. But the club's options are limited.

"With Smoak, it's more about hitting from the left-handed side," Wedge said. "We don't want to send him out until he's further along left-handed. Right-handed, I think we're in pretty good shape. It's just a matter of when he's able to let it rip."

Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez is also close to a rehab stint with Tacoma. He did running drills Monday and will start a second rehab program with the Rainiers soon as he continues recovering from a strained hamstring.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.