NEW YORK -- Though he has continued to throw to a wrong base or commit the occasional baserunning blunder, talented center fielder Mallex Smith has shown he is a quick learner. But as he progresses through his third month as a Major Leaguer, the Braves are still sitting him against some left-handed starters.
"He doesn't have to face all of them," manager Brian Snitker said. "It's what we're doing with his growth and development. At some point in time, he's going to be an everyday guy and hit off of whoever is pitching. But right now we're just picking and choosing our spots as to who he faces."
Smith has recorded just three hits and drawn five walks in 51 plate appearances against left-handers this year. Still, Snitker gave him a chance to start against Cincinnati southpaw Brandon Finnegan on Tuesday. But when the Mets sent Steven Matz to the mound on Saturday night, Smith accepted his bench role with the understanding that he must make the most of the opportunities he receives.
"In no way am I anxious for anything," Smith said. "I'll get my opportunity when I get my opportunity, and when I get it, I just have to make the most of it. Until then I'm just going to be a good teammate and do what I can off the bench to help the team win."
Since recording just six hits through the first 44 at-bats of his career, Smith has batted .279 and compiled a .379 on-base percentage over the 138 plate appearances that followed. He has also made the most of his tremendous speed while getting better leads and avoiding those occasions when he was popping off a bag at the conclusion of a slide.
Smith was successful with just six of his first 13 stolen-base attempts, but he has since been successful with eight consecutive attempts and now ranks fifth in the National League with 14 stolen bases.
"I've seen that from him the entire time I've known him," Snitker said. "His makeup and the way he processes things and the confidence allow him to use a lot of those negatives as a positive. He doesn't panic. He's very confident and he's not scared. I think he understands in this business, there's going to be some adversity and some failure. You learn from it. We all learn from it."
Having placed his primary focus on football throughout most of his high school days, Smith is still learning the game of baseball. But along the way he has impressed the Braves with his attitude and his ability to quickly comprehend constructive criticism.
"I fail a lot, and I feel that's the only way to be successful," Smith said. "In this game you fail a lot. Never am I concerned about failure. It's actually a benefit, because you learn. It's hard to learn from success."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.