Smith plays like veteran to help lead Braves

Rookie center fielder logs 3 hits, makes key defensive play vs. KC

Smith plays like veteran to help lead Braves

KANSAS CITY -- On consecutive plays in the middle of the Braves' 5-0 win over the Royals on Saturday night, Atlanta fans got a sneak preview of coming attractions from their young center fielder.

Mallex Smith ended the fifth with a tumbling catch in deep right-center on Paulo Orlando's drive to keep the Royals from jumping on top. Then, Smith led off the sixth with an authoritative double to right that fueled a three-run rally. These are the golden glimpses of the future that the Braves will cling to as they venture through this rebuilding season.

Smith dramatically changed Saturday's game on a cool, windy night and hopes to tilt a lot more games toward Atlanta over the coming months and years.

Smith went 3-for-4 with a double and a triple, elevating his batting average from .215 to .241. Manager Fredi Gonzalez likes what he sees from Smith so much that Gonzalez said after Saturday's game that he's planning to start the left-handed-hitting Smith against left-hander Danny Duffy in Sunday's rubber game.

The Braves could not turn a double play ball earlier in the fifth, as second baseman Kelly Johnson's pivot throw to first sailed astray for an error, allowing Christian Colon to reach second with two outs. Orlando then sent his drive to right-center and a highly motivated Smith had to showcase his speed to run it down.

Smith's nice grab

"There had been a play in left-center [in the second inning] that I really wanted to make," Smith said.

Smith wasn't able to come up with that Salvador Perez blast that landed for a double. But he stayed with Orlando's ball and held on as he sprawled to the ground. Then, Smith promptly transferred the momentum from his defense to his offense, with a line shot that landed in the right-field corner to open the sixth.

"The game was 0-0," Smith said. "I just wanted to get a good pitch to hit and score a run for [starter] Mike [Foltynewicz], who pitched a phenomenal game."

Smith had an overall thoroughly enjoyable day. Before his big night at Kauffman Stadium, he had the opportunity to tour the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum near downtown Kansas City.

"It was awesome to go in there and see all the history," Smith said. "The things that were done before, to make this possible for me."

Smith was excited to hear the news that he'll be playing on Sunday.

"I want to be in the lineup as much as possible," Smith said. "I'll just play my same game with the lefty out there. I just want to find a way to help my team win. I hate losing."

Robert Falkoff is a contributor to based in Kansas City. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.