After missing most of the season, it hasn't taken Ji-Man Choi very long to find his stroke again in the Pacific Coast League.
"The first game back, I was trying to focus on getting the feel again in the real game and in real situations," Choi said through his agent, John Lee, who acted as translator. "I didn't get hits in those at-bats, but I was confident. It felt good to lead the team to a win tonight."
In his sixth game back in the PCL, the 24-year-old first baseman set a career high with seven RBIs while going 4-for-5 with a grand slam, a double and two runs scored in Triple-A Tacoma's 13-7 victory over visiting Memphis on Wednesday.
His previous high was five RBIs, set for Class A Advanced High Desert on May 21, 2013.
Choi, who signed with the Mariners as an international free agent out of South Korea in 2009, broke his right fibula in a Spring Training game on March 4. He was the Rookie-level Arizona League MVP in his first pro season and, after sitting out 2011 with a strained back muscle, was selected to the Futures Game and earned Organization All-Star honors in 2013. Last year, Choi was limited by a suspension to 74 games.
"Last year was OK, but this year, absolutely [I feel pressure because of the missed time]," he said. "I've been working really hard, and plus I went to the Venezuelan Winter League to prepare for the season. But once the ankle was broken, I was very sad. I came back to the field with some extra power and wanted to show them what I can do. So far, I'm very satisfied."
Coming off a five-game rehab stint in the AZL, Choi is 9-for-20 (.450) with three walks since rejoining the Rainiers.
When he came to bat with the bases loaded and one out in the first inning, the switch-hitter pulled the first pitch he saw from Arturo Reyes over the right field fence.
"Before the game, I was working with hitting coach Cory [Snyder]," Choi said. "He was telling me to [be aggressive] on pitches in the middle of the strike zone, especially fastballs in the middle of the strike zone. That's what that pitch was. When I hit it, I had a feeling it was going to go out. It was my first home run of the season, so that felt very good."
The next inning, he poked an opposite-field RBI single and, facing Reyes a final time in the fourth, he hit a liner to right to plate two more Rainiers.
"When I got to first base, I didn't know how many [RBIs] I had, but when I got back to the dugout, my teammates and the coaches told me," he said. "It was exciting."
Choi wasn't done. Leading off the sixth against Tyler Waldron, he smoked an opposite-field double.
"The more at-bats I had, the more confident I felt," he said.
The Redbirds finally retired Choi when he moved to the right side of the plate to face southpaw Dean Kiekhefer in the seventh. The former catcher worked the count full and fouled off a pitch before going down swinging.
Choi wasn't the only productive player in the Tacoma lineup as Sean O'Malley went 3-for-4 with a double, a walk and four runs scored.
Lucas Luetge (2-2) earned the win with 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, working around a hit and three walks.