Sometimes, you just need to get away.
Seattle Mariners center fielder Mallex Smith returned from a stint at Triple-A Tacoma on Thursday and snapped an 0-for-24 slump with a home run in his first at-bat against visiting Minnesota. The American League Central-leading Twins won 11-6, with the four-game series continuing Friday night at T-Mobile Park.
Acquired in an offseason trade with Tampa Bay, the speedy Smith was supposed to be a key part of the Mariners’ rebuilding plan. But by the end of April, Smith was batting just .165 and dropped fly balls in consecutive games before being demoted.
Smith took three days before reporting to Tacoma to travel home to Florida, where he worked with his private hitting coach.
“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 told The Seattle Times. “I wasn’t even putting the bat on it. That in 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 played in 10 games with Tacoma, hitting .333 with three doubles, a home run, six RBIs and seven stolen bases.
Mariners manager Scott Servais said 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.”
Smith checked off one of those two boxes with his home run. But he also made a fielding error, the third major league game in a row in which he’s done that. It was one of two Seattle miscues in the fourth inning, in which Minnesota scored seven runs.
“The ball was knuckling a little bit,” conceded Servais, “but I’m sure Mallex would agree that’s a play that needs to be made. We gave them six outs in that inning … any time you give them extra outs, they put crooked numbers up.”
The Twins’ Byron Buxton hit a three-run homer in that inning, and C.J. Cron added a two-run shot deep into the second deck in left field. Jason Castro and Max Kepler hit solo home runs, and Miguel Sano, playing his first game of the season, had two doubles.
“It was everything we could have asked for,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We got production from a number of different spots throughout the lineup.”
Friday’s game will feature two left-handers who are off to stellar starts this season. Minnesota’s Martin Perez (5-1, 3.11 ERA) is scheduled to go up against Seattle’s Marco Gonzales (5-2, 3.18). Gonzales has never faced the Twins, while Perez is 7-5 with a 3.38 ERA in 21 career appearances against Seattle, including 19 starts.
The Twins could get back designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who has missed the past four games with a sore left wrist. Cruz spent the previous four seasons with the Mariners, earning All-Star nods in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
— Field Level Media
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