Braves’ Smith leaves MLB debut with cut on face
Give Mallex Smith this: over the past month he’s had a penchant for notable debuts.
In the Grapefruit League opener he hit two triples, homered and doubled; in the first game of Triple-A Gwinnett’s season he led off the game with a three-bagger, and in the center fielder’s first game after the Braves promoted him to the majors — well, he won’t forget this one for a number of reasons.
Called up with Ender Inciarte on the 15-day disabled list, Smith hit leadoff in Monday’s series-opening 6-4 loss to the Nationals. His first at-bat didn’t last long, as Max Scherzer struck him out swinging on three pitches, but the 22-year-old legged out an infield single in the second inning for his first career hit, then reached on a fielder’s choice in the fourth.
That’s when Smith would deliver something truly unforgettable.
With speed that has resulted in 227 steals in four-plus minor league seasons, Smith is expected to cause pitchers fits at this level and he certainly seemed to be in Scherzer’s head. Four times the Washington right-hander threw over to first — including one pickoff-attempt that was followed by another glance toward Smith, then Scherzer badly missing on a four-seam fastball — as Smith’s lead seemed to grow bigger and bigger.
With Nick Markakis facing a 2-2 count, Smith finally took off, catcher Wilson Ramos’ throw beating the rookie as he was thrown out at second. But just as Danny Espinosa applied the tag to the back of Smith’s head, his helmet came off and hit him on the forehead, resulting in a laceration over his left eye. He’s now listed as day-to-day, and was replaced in the lineup by veteran Drew Stubbs, though Smith said after the game that he expects to play Tuesday.
"It probably looked worse than what it was," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I still haven’t felt any pain. They numbed me up and gave me some stitches. I’m fine. I’d play with this every day of the week."
Smith, who received five stitches, said he wasn’t initially aware of how much blood the cut produced.
"It was dripping right away," he said, "(but) I didn’t know the degree until I saw myself in the mirror."
It certainly wasn’t the path that manager Fredi Gonzalez planned for Smith, the Braves’ 10th-ranked prospect on FOXSportsSouth.com’s composite rankings. With Inciarte in place, Gonzalez noted before last Friday’s game against the Cardinals that they had the luxury of noting having to push Smith.
That, of course, would go out the window as Inciarte exited that series opener vs. St. Louis with a tight hamstring. Now they’re hoping to take advantage of the energetic Smith, who was the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year this past season.
"He can bring some excitement to the lineup," Gonzalez said before Monday’s game. "The confidence is off the charts."
As for Smith, he took note of how close that steal attempt was.
"I could have (gotten it) … but I got thrown out so I didn’t," he said. "But that won’t be the last attempt."
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ is out now, and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners’ will be released Nov. 1, 2016.