WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Mallex Smith spent years dreaming of the opportunity to play in the Majors, he probably envisioned a number of different ways to enjoy his debut, none of which likely included him making an early exit with blood streaming down his face.
Smith realized his lifelong dream as he started in center field and served as the Braves leadoff hitter in Monday night's 6-4 loss to the Nationals. He did manage to secure his first career hit -- a single off Max Scherzer -- before being forced to exit in the fourth inning with a laceration above his left eye he suffered when his forehead smacked his batting helmet as he made an unsuccessful attempt to steal second base.
"My helmet comes off and bounces up and cuts me," Smith said. "What are the odds?"
Smith had five stitches resting under a bandage placed above the corner of his left eye as he spoke to reporters, and he smiled and laughed about how his debut had ended in such an unexpected manner. He recorded 226 stolen bases during his Minor League career, but he had never previously experienced anything similar to what occurred as his parents sat in the stands and Braves fans anxiously followed his debut.
When Smith completed a head-first slide, his helmet bounced off the dirt and hit him above the bridge of his nose, causing his forehead to immediately start bleeding. Smith was briefly evaluated by head athletic trainer Jeff Porter before heading to the clubhouse, where he realized the significance of the laceration.
"It probably looked worse than it was," Smith said. "They numbed me, and I haven't felt too much pain. I've got some stitches, but I'm fine. I'll play with this seven days a week."
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Smith will be available to play Tuesday, but with the Nationals starting left-hander Gio Gonzalez, Drew Stubbs might get the start in center field. Stubbs is hitless in 11 at-bats against Gonzalez, so there's a chance Smith will get his wish to immediately return to action.
This was certainly an anticlimactic conclusion to what had been an exciting few days for Smith, who on Sunday learned that he had been called up from Triple-A Gwinnett to replace Ender Inciarte, who was placed on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain suffered on Friday night.
Smith led off Monday's game with a three-pitch strikeout against Scherzer. But the 23-year-old outfielder then showed off his speed as he recorded his first hit in the second inning, an infield single on a sharp grounder backhanded by second baseman Daniel Murphy. He had reached via a fielder's choice before suffering the injury in the fourth inning.
"You saw what we saw in Spring Training," Gonzalez said. " He's a guy who mis-hits a ball in the infield, and it's a base hit. I'm sure he didn't want to come out with five stitches in his forehead, but he'll be back in there as soon as we can get him back in there."
Smith ranks as the Braves' No. 11 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com. But it is safe to say that his stock has steadily risen since he was acquired by Atlanta in the December 2014 trade that sent Justin Upton to the Padres.
With Inciarte sidelined until at least April 24, he could have a chance to display his speed and provide some clearer indication as to how close he truly is to being ready to stick at the Major League level.
"For me to be here right now is an honor, and I'm just trying to make the most of the opportunity," Smith said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.