With the hope that his timing issues at the plate are remedied and the mistakes in the field that seemed to follow the hitting struggles will also be erased, outfielder Mallex Smith will return to his center field spot for a Mariners team that desperately needs him to be the productive player they expected when they acquired him.
Smith was recalled from Class AAA Tacoma on Thursday morning. To make room on the 25-man roster, infielder Shed Long was optioned to Tacoma after Tuesday’s game vs. Oakland.
Smith was immediately inserted back into the starting lineup, batting ninth and playing center for Thursday night’s series opener vs. the Twins.
“I’m anxious to see what it looks like,” manager Scott Servais said. “Hopefully, he gets off to a good start and gets back after it. The reports in Triple A were really good. He was running the bases well. He broke out his bunt game.”
The expectation for Smith is simple.
“Get on base and catch the ball,” Servais said. “If he does those two things, he’s got a good chance to play a lot.”
After hitting jut .167 with a .255 on-base percentage and making some careless errors in center field, the Mariners optioned Smith to Tacoma on April 30. Smith took three days before reporting to Tacoma to travel back to his home in Florida where he worked with his private hitting coach, Frankie Colon.
“There were some balls that I was swinging at that out of the pitcher’s hand I thought I would hit and I didn’t,” Smith said. “I wasn’t even putting the bat on it. That in of itself made me a lot more concerned. It was frustrating because I didn’t really know how to make the adjustment at the time. I was seeing pitches that I know I should hit and I wasn’t even laying the bat on it. And then on top of that, there was not knowing how to make an adjustment. It threw me off a little bit.”
Smith believes his work with Colon has helped him find a rhythm to his swing.
“It was a process,” he said. “It was going through my mentality and how I felt at the plate. He told me some of the things that he saw as he watched me. We put the two things together and things started to click. As I continued to build the repetitions and transfer it over to game and be more focused on the process and not the result, I saw the benefits of the things we were working on.”
He played in 10 games with Tacoma, hitting .333 (15 for 45) with three doubles, a homer, six RBI, three walks and seven stolen bases.
Long, 23, was recalled on May 10 when Dee Gordon and Dylan Moore both had wrist injuries. He made his major-league debut on May 11 at the Red Sox. In three games with the Mariners, he was 0 for 9 with two walks. But he’ll likely be back with the Mariners at some point this season. Seattle views him as part of its future everyday lineup.
“It was a half of cup, not even a full cup of coffee,” Servais said. “With Shed, seeing what he could do in spring training, we knew there was going to be an opportunity for him to get to the big leagues at some point. He’s on the roster and he can play multiple positions. He’ll be back. There’s no question about that.”
It was still a learning experience for Long.
“He made the comment in the send-out meeting: ‘You know you get your pitch to hit here and if you miss it, you might not get another one in that at-bat’ and that’s pretty typical of what you hear from players,” Servais said.
Before being called up, Long was batting .276 (34 for 123) with 25 runs scored, five doubles, four triples, five homers, 21 RBI, 14 walks and two stolen bases for the Rainiers. Long joined the Rainiers in Reno and was in the lineup Thursday night.