ATLANTA—Speedy center fielder Mallex Smith learned quickly that the major leagues can be a school of hard knocks.
In his big league debut on April 11, Smith recorded an infield single against the Nationals’ Max Scherzer in the second inning before suffering a cut above his left eye on a stolen-base attempt that required five stitches in the fourth frame.
“What are the odds that my batting helmet comes off and cuts me on my first attempt?” said Smith, 22, who averaged 69 steals per season in the minors from 2013 to 2015.
Smith received the call after the Braves placed Ender Inciarte on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain. Smith, who recorded a 1.201 OPS in 26 spring at-bats, could have two weeks or more to impress Atlanta while Inciarte heals.
“I definitely think it left a good impression (and) a good taste in their mouth,” Smith said of his spring performance.
He continued to rake in three games at Triple-A Gwinnett, going 6-for-15 (.400) with two doubles and a triple.
The Padres made Smith a fifth-round pick in 2012 from Santa Fe (Fla.) JC. San Diego traded him to the Braves in the Justin Upton deal after the 2014 season. Smith went on to hit .306/.373/.386 with 57 steals in 2015 at Double-A Mississippi and Gwinnett.
Smith has made strides with his hitting approach and ability to drive the ball since joining Atlanta. He also has improved his routes in the outfield and the accuracy on his throws to offset his below-average arm.
“He’s made tremendous strides because he’s so receptive to everything,” big league manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He’s coachable and has a great attitude, and his speed is a game-changer.”
Smith is the first of the Braves’ key position prospects to reach the majors.
“I know this game is hard, so you’re going to fail a lot,” Smith said. “But when you do good, it’s real rewarding.”
• Mississippi righthander Lucas Sims fanned nine Pensacola batters in five innings in his 2016 debut. He allowed only one hit but surrendered three walks.
• The Braves jumped shortstop Ozzie Albies to Mississippi, skipping him past high Class A Carolina, and he responded to an 0-for-4 opener with back-to-back three-hit games.