Over the course of 65 games with Class A Fort Wayne, Mallex Smith never drove a ball out of the park. Since his move to the California League, he's getting to work on his home run trot on a more regular basis.
The Padres speedster mashed his third homer in as many weeks on Friday night, helping Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore roll to an 11-4 win over visiting Bakersfield.
Smith sparked the Storm at the outset, leading off the bottom of the first inning with a home run on the second pitch he saw from Blaze starter Daniel Wright. Lake Elsinore followed his lead in the second. With the bases loaded and none out, Jeudy Valdez reached on an error by third baseman Marquez Smith, allowing two runs to score. Smith singled to reload the bases and Benji Gonzalez plated another run with a sacrifice fly.
"It was great because everybody chipped in in some way," Smith said. "We all did good. It definitely feels good based on the team. It's a great win."
As the meeting of two of the California League's first three teams to reach 60 wins this year wore on, Lake Elsinore continued to pull away. Alberth Martinez hammered a two-run homer in the fifth and the Storm went 7-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
"It's awesome. It takes the pressure off of you," Smith said of his position as leadoff man on an offensively charged night. "You get to sit back and everybody's having fun. Guys who may not be doing too well, they're chipping in and having good days. It was awesome. It was great to be in that dugout. You get to sit back and watch everybody show off their talents. It was a great environment."
Smith has hit all three of his home runs this season since July 4 after entering the month with only six long balls over two Minor League campaigns. Known more for ihs speed -- he leads the Minors with 67 stolen bases after totaling 64 last season -- the 2012 fifth-round pick also has posted multiple hits in four straight games and six of his last eight.
"I'm just seeing it really well, putting good swings on the ball," he said. "I'm trying to have good ABs and take advantage of good pitches.
"It definitely boosts the confidence. It lets you know that your game is productive -- just follow what you know you can do and you'll have success."
Behind that early run support, Lake Elsinore starter Colin Rea (9-5) settled in. He moved into a tie for second place in the league in wins after allowing one run on six hits and a walk while striking out four in six innings.
"I could imagine that it just relaxes you as a pitcher when you get good offensive support," Smith said. "It just allows you to be more confident on the mound because you know, 'I've got a cushion. I've got a lead. I can be more aggressive in the zone and make hitters put the ball in play and not worry about doing too much myself.'"
Wright (6-4) departed after four innings, charged with six runs -- five earned -- on eight hits. He walked one and fanned three.