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Smith nearing return, status for Japan in doubt

Speedster dealing with elbow inflammation, still not cleared to throw
February 18, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners center fielder Mallex Smith expects to be cleared to start doing some defensive drills, but no throwing, as soon as Tuesday as he begins his return from a muscle strain in his right throwing elbow.The 25-year-old leadoff hitter, one of Seattle's primary offseason acquisitions, injured the

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners center fielder Mallex Smith expects to be cleared to start doing some defensive drills, but no throwing, as soon as Tuesday as he begins his return from a muscle strain in his right throwing elbow.
The 25-year-old leadoff hitter, one of Seattle's primary offseason acquisitions, injured the flexor bundle in his right arm when overdoing his throwing routine last month while preparing for his first Spring Training with the Mariners.
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
Smith won't be allowed to throw for several weeks, and won't be able to swing a bat initially, as he lets the inflammation get out of the elbow, but he will start catching fly balls and doing some running as the Mariners prepare for their Cactus League opener Thursday.
"The first few days, they wanted me to not do anything to aggravate the elbow at all and let the inflammation go down," said Smith. "Now, I'm just waiting to be told when I can ramp it up."
Smith was acquired from the Rays in exchange for catcher Mike Zunino and is expected to be one of the core players in Seattle's young nucleus going forward. He's naturally eager to get started, which is perhaps why he overdid the throwing while getting prepared to show what he could do.

"He's anxious and feels bad. You come to a new club and want to get off to a good start and feel like you're part of it right away," said manager Scott Servais. "But he'll be out there soon. No rush. It's early in Spring Training. We'll be OK."
Smith's situation could complicate the Mariners' early roster maneuvering, however. It appears unlikely he'll be ready to play the outfield by the March 20-21 regular-season openers in Tokyo against the A's, though it might be possible to compete by then as a designated hitter or pinch-runner.
The Mariners have six days after returning from Japan before resuming play, with their home opener March 28 against the Red Sox, which might be a more realistic target for Smith's debut.
"It's not the most favorable situation, but it's the situation I was dealt," Smith said. "You have to play the cards you got. You have to do with what you have. It's OK. I'd much rather sit out and take the time now to do what I've got to do so I can be ready when it's time."
Sometimes less is more
First baseman Daniel Vogelbach reported to camp looking much trimmer, while gearing up to compete with Ryon Healy for the starting first-base duties. Vogelbach is out of Minor League options, so this will be a big spring for him to either secure a roster spot or be exposed to waivers.
"Vogey looks great," Servais said. "He has really trimmed up his body. I don't know what it looks like on the scale, but it looks much different. He trained differently. He's fired up. He knows it's his third Spring Training with us and where he's at in his career.
"He put in a lot of time and effort this offseason and hopefully it helps out on the field. It's one thing to look good in the uniform, you still want it to play out on the field."
Hitters waiting to gear it up
Nine Mariners pitchers threw their first live batting practice of the spring Monday, including returning starters Marco Gonzales and Wade LeBlanc, as well as top young rotation prospects Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson, ranked No. 1 and No. 11, respectively, in the organization per MLB Pipeline.

Servais instituted a team competition to encourage hitters to make good decisions on swinging or laying off pitches, as well as some situational hitting, with coaches scoring each hitter.
Many veteran hitters prefer to just take pitches and work on seeing the ball in the initial rounds of live BP, but a couple youngsters came out swinging, with outfielders Eric Filia and Tito Polo among those doing some damage.

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