WASHINGTON -- Instead of simply receiving the congratulatory messages that often follow a Major League debut, Mallex Smith received a flurry of lighthearted messages from friends, who had some fun with the fact that the Braves outfielder's first big league experience abruptly ended with a headfirst slide that left him with five stitches sitting above the bridge of his nose.
"I got it all last night, from 'Wow, you're soft for leaving the game,' to 'I hope you're OK,' to 'Maybe you'll look better now,' to 'It didn't even look like anything happened,'" Smith said. "So, yeah, I got it all."
Smith also received his wish to immediately return to action as Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez inserted the speedy center fielder back into the leadoff spot for Tuesday night's game against lefty Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals. He went 0-for-4 with a walk in a 2-1 Atlanta loss.
"I came here to play," Smith said. "So, as long as nothing is stopping me from physically being able to play, I'm here to play."
Now, Smith can only hope to avoid the unusual misfortune he experienced in Monday's 6-4 loss to the Nationals, when the Braves' No. 11 prospect's much-hyped debut ended when his batting helmet fell off his head, bounced off the dirt and smacked him in the forehead as he completed headfirst slide during an unsuccessful attempt to steal second base.
Though Smith initially pleaded to remain in the game as blood dripped down his face when he walked off the field, he realized the significance of the laceration once he reached the clubhouse and looked in a mirror.
With the Nationals starting a left-hander, Gonzalez initially thought about utilizing right-handed-hitting Drew Stubbs as his starting center fielder on Tuesday. But he instead opted to give the lefty-swinging Smith a chance to prove that his speed can be just as effective against a left-hander as it is against right-handers.
Smith produced a .382 on-base percentage against right-handed pitchers and a .342 OBP against left-handers while combining to tally 548 plate appearances with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett last year.
Odds and ends
The Braves are hoping the perfect sixth inning Jason Grilli completed on Monday will help him as he continues to distance himself from the ruptured left Achilles he suffered in July. Grilli felt uncomfortable as he issued three walks during Saturday's game against the Cardinals and agreed to the suggestion that he steadily works his way back with some lower-leverage appearances. Arodys Vizcaino is the Braves' closer, but the club wants Grilli to get back to being a reliable late-inning option.
Right-handed reliever Daniel Winkler will visit Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday, but early indications have given the Braves reason to believe that Winkler did not suffer any ligament damage when he fractured his right elbow throwing a pitch on Sunday. Winkler underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014.