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Smith delivers spark, works to smooth path

MLB.com

DETROIT -- Mallex Smith's performance in recent games hasn't been entirely smooth. Since being called up June 9 to replace center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is on the 10-day disabled list with a hairline fracture of his right hip, Smith has made a couple errors in the field and had a few gaffes on the basepaths.

But when Smith knocked a base hit through the right side of the infield in the seventh inning Saturday to score the eventual winning run in a 3-2 victory over Detroit, the Rays were reminded of what he's been doing so well. Since the callup, Smith has used a mix of speed and power to ride a career-high nine-game hitting streak.

DETROIT -- Mallex Smith's performance in recent games hasn't been entirely smooth. Since being called up June 9 to replace center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is on the 10-day disabled list with a hairline fracture of his right hip, Smith has made a couple errors in the field and had a few gaffes on the basepaths.

But when Smith knocked a base hit through the right side of the infield in the seventh inning Saturday to score the eventual winning run in a 3-2 victory over Detroit, the Rays were reminded of what he's been doing so well. Since the callup, Smith has used a mix of speed and power to ride a career-high nine-game hitting streak.

He's 15-for-34 (.441) with three extra-base hits, four RBIs, four steals and five walks in that span.

"He's done a nice job," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Obviously, there's probably a couple bumps in the road there that we're gonna continue to work with him on. But he can ignite an offense, for sure."

The past two games show exactly what Cash was talking about. Smith had a pair of hits on both occasions, but also took some chances on the bases that didn't pan out.

On Friday, Smith sprinted home from third base as Tigers starter Daniel Norris threw a pickoff attempt to first. The ball came home and Smith was tagged out on a close play. In the third inning Saturday, Smith stepped too generously from first base and couldn't escape the ensuing rundown started by catcher Alex Avila.

Video: TB@DET: Avila catches Smith trying to steal home

"I came here to put pressure on the defense," said Smith, who has seven steals in nine attempts this year. "So any time I get the opportunity, I will."

Smith's aggressive style has paid off, too. He has three bunt singles since his recent promotion and four on the year, totaling the rest of his teammates and tying him for first in the American League.

Another slight bump in the road has been his defense, which isn't a new concept for the Rays right now. They've committed seven errors the past four games and Smith has had two since rejoining the team. One of his came Saturday when he hesitated on what looked like a catchable fly ball. He then rushed a throw to the infield that allowed Justin Upton to take second base.

"Those are the things that we'll continue to work on with him," Cash said. "And get him to just kind of relax a little bit [and] let his athleticism play."

Smith isn't Kiermaier, the two-time Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder, but for now he's the replacement in center. Until Kiermaier returns, Smith said he'll continue to see each day as a new opportunity for himself.

"I hate that Kiermaier got hurt," he said. "He's very highly respected on this team and I'm looking forward to him coming back. But in the meantime, I'll step in and do what I can to help the team."

Jordan Horrobin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Detroit.

Tampa Bay Rays, Mallex Smith