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Rays journal: Speed the key to Mallex Smith’s game

DUNEDIN — Rays manager Kevin Cash talked before Thursday's 5-3 win over the Blue Jays about how OF Mallex Smith's speed can impact a game, and Smith put that on display during the fifth inning.

With two outs, the left-handed hitting Smith dragged a bunt up the first-base line for a single. He then stole second. From there, he scored on Daniel Robertson's chop to third base, easily beating the throw from 1B Jason Leblebijian to the plate.

"That's it right there," Cash said after the game. "Now we've got to find that recipe to get him on base consistently."

Smith played all nine innings in leftfield, proving that the tightness in his hamstring that forced him to miss 11 games is no longer an issue.

"I need to know how far I can go right now," he said. "(Thursday) was a good day to find out, a chilly day. It's pretty cold in April pretty much everywhere we play (on the road)."

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That is good, because Smith's game is all about speed. Speed on defense. Speed on the bases. His ability to change a game with that speed will earn him a spot on the opening-day roster. Using it to create havoc on the bases will keep him in the big leagues.

"Speed is my game," Smith said. "The better I can become at paying attention to the game and taking advantage of what the field is giving me, I'll be okay."

Higher leverage for Alvarado

RHP Jose Alvarado impressed the Rays last season when he made the jump from Double-A Montgomery to the big club. He has only built on that this spring after allowing one run in nine A-game appearances.

When asked Thursday what kind of role Alvarado could play this season in the bullpen, Cash said, "a really big role. We're going to use him to pitch in the seventh, the eighth. We'll use him whenever. I cannot compliment him enough about how he comes in and attacks."

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Alvarado allowed a hit and struck out one Thursday during a minor-league game against the Class-A Twins. It was his first back-to-back appearance of the spring.

Game report

1B C.J. Cron homered over the rightfield bullpen with Robertson on base for the deciding runs in the Rays' victory over the Blue Jays. Cash was pleased with the aggressive baserunning that led to runs — Smith scoring from second on a Robertson's two-out chopper to third and Keon Wong scoring from second when the ball got past Blue Jays C Russell Martin when Cron struck out in the third. RHP Andrew Kittredge allowed one hit and struck out five in 2-2/3 innings, his longest outing of the spring. Cash was impressed that Kittredge had the same command when his pitch count reached the 40s as he did early in the outing.

And one to grow on

Robertson celebrated his 24th birthday by getting plunked with a pitch on his left arm in the third. Craig Vanderkam of the Rays communications staff helped Robertson celebrate by getting the official scorer to credit Robertson with an RBI when Smith scored from second on Robertson's chopper to third in the fifth. The initial ruling was an infield hit, no RBI.

Miscellany

Fox Sports Sun will air its 2018 Rays season preview show Sunday following the Rays-Yankees game that will be broadcast live, beginning at 1:05 p.m. … Scheduled to play in Port Charlotte today in the split-squad game against the Blue Jays are RF Carlos Gomez, LF Denard Span, CF Kevin Kiermaier, SS Adeiny Hechavarria and 3B Matt Duffy. … Making the trip to Sarasota to play the Orioles will be 1B Brad Miller, Robertson, Smith and OF Micah Johnson.

Contact Roger Mooney at [email protected] Follow @rogermooney50

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