Mallex Smith got his first start in more than three months Tuesday and made the most of the opportunity, getting two hits including a game-tying two-out RBI single in the eighth inning of the Braves’ 7-6 comeback win against the Phillies.
The rookie outfielder missed 10 weeks after sustaining a broken thumb June 19, and Smith had been limited to pinch-hitting since rejoining the Braves Sept. 16 after a couple of weeks rehabbing with the Double-A Mississippi team.
Braves interim manager Brian Snitker decided to start him once at each of the outfield spots during a three-game series against the Phillies that started Tuesday. Smith, playing left field and batting eighth in the series opener, came through with a pair of singles in the seventh and eighth innings as the Braves mounted their comeback from an early 6-0 deficit.
“Aw, man, it was awesome,” Smith said. “Like I said, I’m just happy to be here and happy to find a way to contribute. I can’t say that any more genuinely than I just said it right now.”
After Tyler Flowers hit a three-run homer in a four-run sixth inning that brought the Braves to within one run at 6-5, Smith led off the seventh with a single against left-hander Joely Rodriguez and stole second base, his 16th steal in 67 games, tying Ender Inciarte for the team lead. Three ground-out later he was stranded at third when the inning ended.
In the eighth, after the Braves loaded the bases on a Freddie Freeman leadoff single, a Flowers one-out double and an intentional walk, Dansby Swanson struck out for the second out. That’s when Smith came through with an opposite-field, game-tying single to left. Emilio Bonifacio followed with another single that gave the Braves their first lead.
“It’s huge,” Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said of the two-out hits, an area where the Braves struggled mightily for much of the season, but not during their offensive surge since the All-Star break. “It’s just like they’ve been doing. Man, they’re just never out of a game. They just keep coming at ‘em.”
On his two-out hit, Smith said, “I’m not trying to do nothing special right there, just trying to get a good pitch and put it in play. At the very least, I just don’t want to strike out. People in scoring position, I at least want to give myself a chance by putting something in play.”
Smith’s hit off Rodriguez was just his fourth in 47 at-bats (.085) against lefties, while he’s hit .305 (40-for-131) with a .374 OBP against right-handers. He’s 4-for-9 with two walks and a .545 OBP since returning from the Braves and was in the lineup in right field Wednesday.
Smith, who is scheduled to start in center field in Thursday’s series finale, was batting .273 (27-for-99) in his past 40 games before Wednesday with seven extra-base hits (five triples), 10 stolen bases and a .368 OBP in that span.