Orioles outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. was a late addition to the Orioles roster this spring, but he has emerged as one of the team’s top offensive threats during the first month of the season.
So, when he was removed from Sunday’s tight, 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins with a thigh injury, there was a pretty good chance that his spot in the lineup would come up at a pivotal time … or two.
It already did earlier in the game, when he delivered a clutch two-run single in the third inning to narrow the three-run lead the Twins built against O’s starter Dylan Bundy.
Smith, who is batting .289 with four homers and 15 RBIs, left the game when his right quadriceps tightened up running to first base in the sixth inning. He underwent treatment while the game continued and said afterward that it wasn’t the first time he experienced the soreness.
“I’ve been dealing with it the last week, week-and-a-half,” he said. “I’ve been playing through it.”
Turns out, it was the same problem that prompted manager Brandon Hyde to hold him out of the lineup the previous Sunday in Boston.
And sure enough, after the Orioles entered the eighth inning trailing by two runs and got the first two batters on base, Smith’s No. 3 spot in the order came up with one out, and the at-bat went to Cedric Mullins, who is in the midst of a discouraging early-season slump. Mullins grounded out to first and the rally fizzled.
In the ninth, the Orioles got a couple of runners on and Jonathan Villar delivered a two-out double to make it a one-run game. With runners still at second and third, the Twins walked hot-hitting Trey Mancini to load the bases and the No. 3 slot came up again.
Catcher Pedro Severino pinch hit for Mullins and worked the count to 3-1 against left-hander Taylor Rogers before flying out to right field to end the game.
Smith acknowledged that it was frustrating to be on the outside looking in on both of those potential rallies.
“Yeah, definitely,’’ he said. “Close game like that, you never want to come out. Today it was absolutely the right thing to do. Don’t want to push it and make things worse, but I definitely want to be there for all nine.”
Hyde certainly concurred. He has been understandably impressed with the way Smith seized the opportunity to win an important everyday role with his new team.
“Just great ABs [at-bats],” Hyde said. “I think I’ve said it a lot. Really good at-bats. Drives in our first two runs with a big knock up the middle, almost goes deep to center field. Really good ABs in Tampa off some left-handers, too, so I like Dwight’s approach at the plate
“He’s been playing really good baseball. He brings a professional presence in the box when the game starts and I just love his at-bats and the way he uses the whole field. He’s got kind of some sneaky power. He’s just a really good player.”
Though Hyde seemed doubtful that Smith would be in the lineup for the series opener against the Chicago White Sox on Monday, Smith said he thinks what happened Sunday was “mainly a cramp” and he felt better after treatment.
“I’ll see how I feel tomorrow,’’ he said. “Honestly, the way I feel, I probably could play tomorrow.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.