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Smith 'cutting it close' for Opening Day roster

Speedy outfielder nursing hamstring issue, has not played since March 8
MLB.com @wwchastain

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Roster decisions are looming, and the Rays are potentially facing a difficult decision regarding Mallex Smith, who is trying to return from a right hamstring problem.

Smith, who looks to be the Rays' fourth outfielder, has not played since March 8. With Opening Day on March 29, Rays manager Kevin Cash said they could be cutting things close with Smith.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Roster decisions are looming, and the Rays are potentially facing a difficult decision regarding Mallex Smith, who is trying to return from a right hamstring problem.

Smith, who looks to be the Rays' fourth outfielder, has not played since March 8. With Opening Day on March 29, Rays manager Kevin Cash said they could be cutting things close with Smith.

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"I think we're still OK [for Opening Day], but we're going to start cutting it close, being that speed is such a big part of his game," said Cash, who added that having Smith at less than full speed does not help the Rays. "We need him to be able to move like he's capable of."

On the positive side, Smith told reporters Sunday morning, "I should be back soon."

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"At this point it's just a matter of I don't want to rush out there too quick," Smith said. "Make sure I'm already ready. And then I'll be back out there."

Smith feels as though he caught the injury at the right time before further aggravating it and potentially missing a lot of time.

"This isn't something I want to go into the season with," Smith said. "Just making sure I get it under control and out of the way now is the focal point right now."

Smith believes he'll be ready to go on Opening Day.

"Oh, yes [I'll be ready by then]," Smith said. "At this point I think for them, and for me, I just want to make sure when I get back out there I'm rolling and I'm not favoring it any. While we have the time, we just want to make sure that's the case. And we're fine going into the season."

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Smith appeared in 81 games across four stints in the Major Leagues in 2017, starting 68 games and hitting .270 with two home runs, 12 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. When he's right, he can be a disruptive force, like he was last season on April 8 against the Blue Jays when he reached base five times and swiped two bags. Unfortunately for Smith and the Rays, he had to be removed from the game on April 13 against the Yankees due to a right hamstring strain and went on the disabled list the following day. When he was reinstated on April 27, he was optioned to Triple-A Durham.

Smith said he is not concerned that he's having a problem with the same hamstring this season.

"Just because we got on top of it now," Smith said. "We're going to stay on top of it through the season. Just keep it rolling like that."

Smith ran some on Sunday, working on changing directions and running the bases. He also shagged fly balls. He will work out with the Minor League side on Monday.

"[We will] try to get him in a game on the Minor League side on Tuesday, but we still have to see how he comes out of the next two days," Cash said.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.

Tampa Bay Rays, Mallex Smith