Mallex injury opens door for OF prospects

February 16th, 2019
Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais watches during spring training baseball practice Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)Charlie Riedel/AP

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The official motto of the Mariners' Spring Training -- as posted boldly on the team's clubhouse walls at the Peoria Sports Complex -- is "Kaizen," which is the Japanese word for continuous improvement.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

It's a fitting mantra for a club building around a new young nucleus that will open its season next month in Tokyo. But Mariners manager Scott Servais might have hit upon another less formal motto when he pronounced this as "the camp of opportunity" after learning that new center fielder will be sidelined at least the first few weeks of Spring Training with a strained muscle in his right forearm.

Smith underwent tests in Seattle that showed no ligament damage, but they did reveal a strained flexor mass, which is the muscle area in the elbow. As the Mariners prepared to take the field for Saturday's first full-squad workout, Servais said Smith will be held out of all work initially and likely won't be allowed to throw for "the next couple weeks."

The issue isn't believed to be too serious, but it presents an early question for a club that acquired the 25-year-old Smith from the Rays to fill the starting center field role and bat leadoff. The Mariners don't have a lot of time this spring as Cactus League games open Thursday and Opening Day is just 4 1/2 weeks away in Japan, so any further setback or delay could impact the start of the season.

With an extra week after Japan before the Mariners resume regular-season play with their home opener on March 28 against the Red Sox, it's likely the club won't push Smith to return for the games in Tokyo unless he is ready to be used strictly as a designated hitter or pinch-runner.

Servais noted that right fielder can move to center, if needed, and young prospects Kyle Lewis, Jake Fraley, Dom Thompson-Williams and all will get increased looks.

"We have a camp full of guys that are dying to get the chance to get out and play, so we'll see what they bring," Servais said. "You'll see some opportunity for those young guys to show what they've got right out of the chute."

Smith took over as the Rays' everyday center fielder last year and produced a .296/.367/.406 line with 40 stolen bases and an American League-leading 10 triples.

Smith was just trying to practice a little "kaizen" himself when he overworked his arm while training in Florida last month.

Mariners Spring Training tickets | Schedule | Buy gear

"I just over-exhausted it," he said. "I just kind of wore it out a little bit while I was throwing, coming back a little too soon, trying to ramp it up a little too much. It's a minor setback. It won't be too long."

Smith won't be able to throw or hit initially, but he said he's not completely sidelined.

"I can move my lower extremities. I can walk and talk and breathe and all those other things," he said with a smile.

As for hitting?

"Soon," he said. "This is part of being an athlete. Day by day I'll get better, and I'll be back out there soon."

And so it begins ...

Servais said his message was a little different in his first team meeting before sending the 67 players in camp out on the field for the first time, given that 32 of those players had never been in the Mariners' organization and 12 more have been in the organization but are in their first big league camp with the club.

"I'm excited," Servais said. "It's the first day. I don't care how long you've been doing this. I think this is my 31st or 32nd Spring Training. The first day of full squad everybody is always juiced up and ready to go. Certainly this year, we have a ton of opportunity, and we'll see what guys take it and run with it."

Worth noting

• Right-hander has been held back in the first days of camp and recently received a cortisone shot in his sore shoulder, but he is expected to be cleared to start throwing soon.

• Servais noted that first base looks like "the most intriguing" roster situation with returners and and veteran acquisitions and expected to split playing time this spring.

• Infielder remains the only player yet to report as the non-roster invitee is still in the Dominican Republic going through the visa process.

• Pitchers continued throwing 10-minute bullpen sessions on Saturday, but some will begin with live batting practice to hitters on Sunday -- a group that will include , , , and .

, , and Erik Swanson will be among those throwing live BP on Monday.

• For fans in Peoria, players will take the field about 11 a.m. MT each day and work until around 1:30 p.m. during full-squad workouts through Wednesday. That schedule will be moved up once games begin Thursday.