Quite a day in K.C. for Braves dynamic rookie Mallex Smith

KANSAS CITY – Braves center fielder Mallex Smith’s eventful Saturday started with a morning tour of the superb Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, and continued with a 5-0 win against the Royals in which the rookie made two nice catches and had three hits including a double and triple.

“Man, first of all the Negro League Museum was awesome,” said the affable rookie. “I thought I was going to go in there for, like, 30 minutes. I stayed in there so long; I stayed in there for two hours, at least. It was amazing. Then to come out and play this game is just awesome.

“It was very humbling to go in there and see all the history, the things that were done before to make this possible for me.”

The capper for his memorable day was news after the game from Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who said Smith’s playing time could increase again beginning with a start against Royals left-hander Danny Duffy in Sunday’s series finale. Duffy’s moving from the bullpen for his first start and not expected to pitch deep.

When told by a reporter that he would be in the lineup Sunday against a lefty, Smith smiled. “That’s awesome,” he said. “I came here to play. I can rest in the offseason and when I’m dead. I want to be in the lineup as much as possible. Just try to play my same game with the lefty in there.”

Smith is 2-for-22 with two walks and 10 strikeouts against left-handers, and lately the Braves had been resting him against lefties and playing Jeff Francoeur in left field and Ender Inciarte in center. But the combination of Smith’s defense and the spark he can give the lineup has caused the Braves to reconsider.

He’s hitting .241 overall with a .289 on-base percentage but in his past 13 games he’s 14-for-39 (.359) with six extra-base hits and four stolen bases. He was caught stealing Saturday when he got picked off first base in the third inning after laying down a leadoff bunt single.

Batting eighth in the order, Smith had a leadoff double to start the Braves’ game-turning three-run sixth inning and added a leadoff triple in the ninth — the first triple of the season for the Braves, the only team without one prior to Saturday.

“I got picked off, and I wanted to make sure I got back on base and give it another try,” Smith said. “I just want to help the team win. Winning is fun for everybody.”

His performance Saturday, and that third-inning sequence in particular, was a microcosm of the Mallex Smith experience so far in his first season.

“Couple of great catches defensively tonight, and he’s got some energy in him,” said Gonzalez, who gave an example of how Smith is progressing. “He does a great job (Friday), lays down a sac bunt, really harmless sac bunt but something we’ve been trying to get him to do since he’s been up here, to bunt like it’s a sac bunt – make sure the ball hits the ground before you run. Well, he couldn’t get it. So yesterday he got it, he figured it out. He goes, ‘Everybody in the ballpark knew we were bunting, I laid it down and almost beat it out. Ok, so this is the technique I’ve got to do.’ Yes, I told him.

“So boom, first at-bat today, same technique, boom, base hit. Then he gets picked off. It’s another learning thing — hey, young man, you’ve got the green light, you don’t have to run on the first two pitches, you’ve got the green light through the whole whatever. But it’s a learning thing, and it’s fun for him, fun for us. So much so that, for me, I just had a meeting with the coaches real quick (after the game). We haven’t really played him against lefties and we’ve got a lefty tomorrow, but he’s brought so much energy, so much (to the table), that we’re going to run him out there tomorrow. Put him some place in the lineup.

“We don’t know how long Duffy’s going to go. Put him out there and keep playing him. Because he’s a special talent.”