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Watch this glovely play from Mallex

Kelenic scorches first double; Kikuchi up and down
@gregjohnsmlb
February 23, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mallex Smith opened his season with a bang, as the Mariners center fielder smacked hard into the left-center-field wall while hauling in a deep drive by the Rangers’ Greg Bird during the third inning of Seattle’s 7-5 loss to the Rangers in their Cactus League opener on

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mallex Smith opened his season with a bang, as the Mariners center fielder smacked hard into the left-center-field wall while hauling in a deep drive by the Rangers’ Greg Bird during the third inning of Seattle’s 7-5 loss to the Rangers in their Cactus League opener on Sunday.

Smith struggled with his glove -- as well as his confidence -- early last season, but he improved dramatically in the second half and graded out tied for 20th among all MLB outfielders with plus-10 Outs Above Average for the season.

The Mariners expect a bounceback season from Smith this year at the plate and continued improvement in the field and he’s off to a quick start in that regard. In addition to his stellar catch on Sunday, the 26-year-old made a couple of nice diving catches in a situational hitting and baserunning drills on Friday.

In addition to his stellar catch on Sunday, the 26-year-old made a couple of nice diving catches in a situational hitting and baserunning drills on Friday.

“It just means the work that I put in was efficient and really I’m just looking forward to making those all year and being an elite defender,” Smith said. “That’s what I’m here to do.”

Smith’s right shoulder took the brunt of the collision, though he said he should be OK.

“I’m perfectly fine,” Smith said. “It didn’t hurt at all.”

It helped that Smith received a loud ovation from the Peoria Stadium crowd, as well as his teammates when he returned to the dugout at the end of the inning.

“It feels like that’s what I’m supposed to do,” Smith said. “So I guess it feels good. I’m glad [the crowd] enjoyed it. There should be plenty more where that came from.”

Bird, a former Yankee who signed with Texas this offseason, just tipped his cap to Smith’s glovework.

"Good player. What are you going to do?” Bird said. “Good swing. That’s how it goes."

Kelenic doubles in debut

Highly regarded outfield prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez both came off the bench to get some late-inning action in the opener.

Kelenic, 20, was grazed by a pitch in his elbow in his first at-bat in the sixth, laced an opposite-field double to left in the eighth and drew a walk in a ninth-inning rally that came up just short when Cal Raleigh struck out with the bases loaded.

Kelenic showed good discipline in that last at-bat when he came to the plate with two on and two out, drawing the walk when he patiently laid off two curveballs after working the count to 3-1.

“It was a good at-bat,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Good for him. The more experiences like that he gets now, the better off we’ll all be down the road. Jarred stays in the moment really well. He’s very talented, but what goes on between his ears during the game is key. He doesn’t get ahead of himself. That’s what you saw today. He’s going to be in that situation a lot in his career.”

Rodriguez, 19, struck out looking in his initial two plate appearances.

Good velo, rough results

Yusei Kikuchi showed good velocity with his fastball in his Cactus League debut, though the results were less impressive. The second-year Mariners starter allowed four hits and three runs (two earned) against the 10 batters he faced in 1 1/3 innings.

Kikuchi’s fastball was consistently sitting at 93-95 mph, several ticks higher than where he finished his rookie season. That was a point of emphasis over the winter as he worked to simplify his throwing motion and get back to his natural delivery.

“My fastball felt great,” Kikuchi said through translator Kevin Ando. “I need to work on command of my slider. Getting ahead and putting away hitters, that could be better.”

Short hops from Peoria

• The Mariners have set their upcoming pitching plans, with Marco Gonzales getting the start on Monday against the Cubs and Kendall Graveman going Tuesday at Milwaukee, with Justus Sheffield pitching in relief in that road opener in Maryvale. Justin Dunn will debut on Wednesday against the Reds in Goodyear. The Mariners have a split-squad day on Thursday, with Taijuan Walker throwing in the home game against the Giants and No. 3 prospect Logan Gilbert facing the White Sox at Camelback Ranch in Glendale.

• Outfielder Rymer Liriano signed a Minor League deal with an invitation to Major League camp on Sunday. The 28-year-old has played 59 games in the Majors with the Padres (2014) and White Sox (’17), batting .220/.293/.287 with four doubles and two homers. He hit .209/.346/.403 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs in 82 games for the Mets’ Triple-A Syracuse club last season.

• Left-hander Manny Bañuelos also reported to camp over the weekend after being delayed getting out of Mexico on a visa issue. The 28-year-old threw a bullpen session on Sunday and isn’t too far behind the other pitchers, according to Servais. That leaves infielder Alen Hanson, another Minor League signee, as the only player yet to report. Hanson is still in the Dominican Republic due to a visa issue.

• The Red Sox claimed right-hander Phillips Valdez off waivers from the Mariners on Sunday. The 28-year-old was designated for assignment on Friday by Seattle to open a 40-man roster spot after the Mariners claimed right-hander Taylor Williams from the Brewers.

Up next

Gonzales will make his Cactus League debut on Monday when the Mariners host the Cubs in a 12:10 p.m. PT game at Peoria Stadium. Seattle’s No. 1 starter will likely pitch the first two innings, with Nick Margevicius, Carl Edwards Jr., Zac Grotz, Rule 5 Draft pickup Yohan Ramirez, Aaron Fletcher and Wyatt Mills slated for relief. Right-hander Adbert Alzolay, a 24-year-old rookie competing for the Cubs’ fifth-starter spot, will be on the hill for the visitors.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.