The at-bats had devolved from bad to non-competitive and the results were non-existent. The mistakes in the field only made the decision that much more necessary. The Mariners simply couldn’t keep putting Mallex Smith in the lineup every day in centerfield, hoping he would play himself out of what had festered into a three-week long funk.
On Tuesday, the team optioned the slumping Smith to Class AAA Tacoma and recalled outfielder Braden Bishop from the Rainiers to take his spot on the 25-man roster.
Manager Scott Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto met with Smith on Tuesday morning to inform him of the decision.
“You just want to get the player down there and let them restart or reboot his season,” Servais said. “Mallex totally understood where we were coming from. He asked if he could get on a plane and fly to Salt Lake and play there tonight. He wants to get right and knows he can help our club and that we need him. He knows he’s still going to be a big part of our future going forward. Those meetings are never easy. This is just doing what’s best for the player.”
That flight wasn’t available for Smith, but he’ll be in the lineup on Wednesday night.
Smith is hitting .065 (3 for 46) in his past 15 games (11 starts) with a double, five walks and 18 strikeouts. On the season, he is hitting .165 with 5 RBI, 11 walks and 33 strikeouts in 27 games.
He has also been struggling in the field, too, dropping routine fly balls in back-to-back games against the Rangers. He has the worst defensive runs above average, according to FanGraphs, at minus-5.2 and a minus-5.6 Ultimate Zone Rating.
“Really, it’s a couple of things,” Servais said. “Our job is to get the players going and playing well. Sometimes you have to take a step back. With Mallex having no real spring training and us firing him out there right away when we got back here (from Japan), I thought the first 30-40 at-bats were very good, very competitive. He’s just had a tough time the last couple of weeks getting much going offensively. And on the defensive side of the ball, it’s been a struggle there as well.”
This isn’t the first time the Mariners have done this with an everyday player. They did the same with Mike Zunino when he was slumping in 2017. Interestingly, Smith and Zunino were the two key components of the offseason trade with the Rays. Seattle sent Zunino and Guillermo Heredia to Tampa in exchange for Smith and outfielder Jake Fraley.
“Mallex is a premiere athlete,” Servais said. “The things he can do on the baseball field, he just needs to let that athleticism play out.”
Bishop has been playing well for the Rainiers — hitting .267 with 13 RBI, 3 home runs and an .800 OPS and is a strong center fielder. Servais has said often that he trusts Bishop can handle the responsibilities.
“I found out last night in Salt Lake City after the game and then I took the early flight here, so I’m a little overwhelmed,” Bishop said. “Obviously, it feels good (to have manager’s confidence). I think the biggest thing, when you come into spring training, I wanted to earn his trust. I think I did that. I think him bringing me here kind of shows that, so that feels good. But now I’ve got to prove it.”
Bishop was immediately placed in the starting lineup in centerfield and batting eighth.
“I’m excited to play,” he said. ” I think any time you can get on a field and mix it up, it’s a good thing, so I’m excited for it.”
The former University of Washington standout said he had a number of friends and family coming to the games at T-Mobile Park.