"I was in a bad spot offensively," Smith said. "The usual fixes weren't getting me out of it, either. I knew something was up."
Smith, an outfielder whom the Padres landed this offseason to combat their woeful average against right-handed pitching, found a possible cure to what ailed him in an unlikely place -- the ophthalmologist office.
In August, Smith essentially had touch-up Lasik surgery on his left eye to improve his vision. Smith said he had Lasik surgery on both eyes in 2006 and that it was merely time to follow it up with a minor procedure in order to track the ball as he did after his original surgery when he was with the Rockies.
"I would lose some balls on the outside [corner], and I wasn't really able to see them that well when they got to the plate, especially during night games," Smith said.
After hitting .241/.315/.367 through Aug. 17 last season, Smith returned six days later with better vision and better success at the plate. Smith hit .341/.431/.568 over his final 51 plate appearances of the regular season before hitting .313 in four playoff games.
Smith is not quite ready to credit his offensive turnaround with the surgery -- though he is not really ready to dismiss it, either.
"It's hard to say if it's physical or mental," Smith said. "We're crazy humans, and sometimes feeling like a better baseball player can make you a better baseball player," he added.
The Padres, who entered the offseason looking for a left-handed bat, will gladly take some of that post-surgery Smith as opposed to the player who scuffled before the procedure.
The Padres are coming off a year in which they ranked 25th in baseball with a .241 average against right-handed pitching and 29th in OPS (.668) against righties. The team looked at David Murphy, who eventually got two years and $12 million from the Indians. Nate McLouth (two years, $10.75 million from the Nationals) was also under consideration.
In the end, the Padres parted with an asset in reliever Luke Gregerson for Smith, who certainly knows the National League West from his five seasons with the Rockies (2007-11).
"I've played with Seth since we were in college; we were on Team USA, and he's just one of those solid players you can depend on," said Padres closer Huston Street, who played in Colorado from 2009-11. "He's got a good bat you can count on, he's not going to go into slumps, he's got pop and he will get a lot of doubles. He's fast, a good athlete and he's a great guy in the clubhouse."
Smith has a career .279/.357/.487 line against right-handed pitching and a .291 average in 87 total plate appearances at Petco Park. He played the past two seasons in Oakland, so he understands and will not be put off by playing in a bigger, pitching-friendly ballpark.
"It's not that easy to find bats, guys who have done it," Padres manager Bud Black said. "With Seth we're getting an experienced Major League hitter who has had success in our division. And coming back to the National League, where he can be used as a starting outfielder or a left-handed threat off the bench, it adds to our offensive strength. It adds to our depth, and in this day and age, you need depth."
So far, Black has liked what he has seen from Smith.
"He has some power … there's some danger in there," Black said.