BY KEEGAN MATHESON
TORONTO — It's all clicking now for Rays OF Mallex Smith, who continues to ride a prolonged hot streak and flash game-changing ability at the top of Tampa Bay's lineup.
A hot April from Smith generated plenty of buzz, but that quieted through the summer. The 25-year-old has been in a groove since the calendar flipped to July, though, and he's only getting hotter.
Smith entered Friday's series in Toronto hitting 14-for-30 (.467) over his previous 10 games and has been making hard contact consistently, but the most impressive part of this streak has been his improved plate approach with eight walks over that span.
"To put it as simply as possible, it's swinging at the pitches I like and not at the pitches I don't," Smith said before Friday's series opener in Toronto.
Manager Kevin Cash went a little deeper on Smith, well, going a little deeper.
"He's really confident right now," Cash said. "Hitters go through different periods of the season where they see the ball really well. He's confident hitting behind in the count, so he's not going up there looking to get the at-bat over. He'll swing early on, but if not, has full confidence in his ability that he can work deep."
Smith has speed to burn, which has always been his most impressive tool dating to his days as a prospect in San Diego and Atlanta. In 2013 and 2014, which Smith split between Class-A and high-A in the Padres system, he stole 64 and 88 bases.
With his average hovering near .300 this year and the top on-base percentage on the team behind the injured Daniel Robertson, Smith is seeing more opportunities to run.
He plans on taking them, too.
"I think of myself as a base stealer, and base stealers need to steal bases,'' Smith said. "It's all about picking the right spots."
When dealing with a younger team, part of Cash's job is encouraging players who are performing better than their stat line might suggest.
Ryan Yarbrough was the most recent rookie to have that talk after surrendering two home runs in each of his last two outings. That bumped the 26-year-old's ERA up from 3.67 to 4.24, but Cash is still impressed with the overall package of Yarbrough's season.
"We talked with Yarbrough the other day. He's frustrated," Cash said. "Two outings where he was not pleased with himself, but it's easy to look at his stats and remind him he's got 11 wins, he's basically been under a four ERA all year long as a rookie pitcher."
Roe begins rehab
Relief pitcher Chaz Roe made his first rehab appearance on Thursday after missing a month with a torn left meniscus. It was a fine first step, too, as Roe struck out the side on 18 pitches with high-A Charlotte.
Roe was one of Tampa Bay's busiest arms before hitting the disabled list with a 3.60 ERA over 41 appearances and 35 innings.
This and that
The Rays entered their series in Toronto riding a streak of six one-run games. It's the second time that has happened in franchise history, and the second time it's happened in the majors this season … Time to get familiar, because 13 of the Rays final 47 games (including Friday) are against the Blue Jays … Only 14 players on Friday's active roster were on it when the Rays last faced the Blue Jays on June 13 at Tropicana Field. That's 11 new faces in under two months.