For the first time in more than four months, outfielder Mallex Smith was back in the Braves starting Tuesday, and probably will be for the next two games as well.
Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said he planned to give Smith a start at each outfield position during the three-game Phillies series, beginning with left field Tuesday. Left fielder and cleanup hitter Matt Kemp had started 39 consecutive games before Tuesday and 49 of 50 since being traded to the Braves.
Smith missed nearly three months with a broken thumb after being hit by a pitch June 19. The rookie speedster came off the disabled list this month and played five games plus a postseason series with Double-A Mississippi before being reinstated from the disabled list Jan. 16.
Since rejoining the Braves he had played in eight games off the bench but made no starts, going 2-for-5 including 2-for-3 with two walks as a pinch-hitter.
“I’m just trying to maybe give Mallex (starts in) these next three games,” Snitker said of Tuesday’s different-look lineup. “Like to get him out there a little bit. Hate that an injury (knocked him out of the lineup), but it’s a different dynamic now than when he left. Right now just try to get him a few at-bats before he goes into his offseason.”
In his last 43 games before the thumb injury, Smith hit .272 with 11 extra-base hits, 16 RBIs, 12 stolen bases and a .440 slugging percentage. But since he left, center fielder Ender Inciarte got hot and the Braves traded for veteran Kemp.
Right fielder Nick Markakis has started 32 consecutive games and 46 of 47 through Tuesday, and Inciarte has started 31 consecutive games and 72 of 73 in center. Snitker plans to rest Markakis and Inciarte once apiece Tuesday and Wednesday, though he didn’t say which would rest first.
Smith said Snitker explained to him when he rejoined the team that things had changed since the rookie got hurt, and Smith said he understood and had no problem whatsoever being relegated to a bench role the rest of the way.
“Listen, Ender’s playing Gold Glove center and has been having a phenomenal second half,” Smith said a few days ago. “Kemp has 100 RBIs. Markakis is a professional hitter. Who’s job am I supposed to just come here and take over? I felt like this was coming, so coming up here I was just ready for anything. My opportunity isn’t just starting, it’s whenever I get in the game. So I’m just taking advantage of every opportunity.”
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