ATLANTA -- Mallex Smith returned to Turner Field wearing that same smile he had when his rookie season was rudely interrupted in June by a pitch that fractured his left thumb. Having spent the past couple of weeks getting back in the swing of things with Double-A Mississippi, the always upbeat outfielder is ready to take advantage of any playing time he gets over the remainder of the season at the big league level.
"This is extremely important," said Smith, who was activated from the 60-day disabled list Friday. "I wanted to be comfortable, knowing my hand was OK and just knowing I can do whatever I want with it. I don't need to be cautious. I can play the game without worrying if my hand is OK."
There certainly didn't appear to be any lingering concerns when Smith came off the bench to deliver a pinch-hit single during the seventh inning of Friday night's 7-2 loss to the Nationals. This was his first big league plate appearance in nearly three full calendar months.
Smith served as one of Atlanta's regular outfielders before his thumb was fractured by a pitch thrown by Mets left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo on June 19. But it appears the 23-year-old outfielder will spend the remainder of the season on the bench as the Braves continue to utilize Matt Kemp, Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis as their starting outfielders.
Given how productive this outfield trio has been since Kemp arrived on Aug. 2, Braves manager Brian Snitker said he doesn't know if any of them will necessarily want a day off over the remainder of the season. But he will look for opportunities to play Smith, who batted .272 and compiled a .338 on-base percentage over the last 43 games he played before sustaining the injury.
"[Smith] will probably pinch-hit and pinch-run," Snitker said. "It just gives us another option late in the game if we need to double-switch or something like that. There have been a few times when it would have been good to have him around to pinch-run or pinch-hit."
Smith is simply happy to have the chance to get another taste of the big leagues before heading into the offseason. Approximately a month ago, it looked like his September action might be limited to some instructional league at-bats.
"I expected to come back," Smith said. "But just going and getting my reports from my doctor, my bone was acting like it didn't want to heal quite as fast as I wanted it to. But eventually, when I got my cast off, things sped up. I think the bone just needed some air to breathe. Then my healing went a lot better."
Smith quickly gained confidence in his thumb as he went 7-for-16 with a triple in the five regular-season games he played for Mississippi before the regular season concluded. He went just 7-for-30 during the playoffs for the M-Braves, who advanced past the first round, but were swept in the best-of-five Southern League Championship Series.
"If anything, I was nervous because I hadn't played and I wanted to help the team win," Smith said. "I didn't want to just be there on a rehab assignment and not helping. It was awesome. I enjoyed myself. I'm happy those guys got to the playoffs, and I'm happy I could help. I'm sad I wasn't able to help enough to win."
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.