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Dodgers Week 18: A change behind the plate

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Los Angeles Dodgers v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

After several weeks of clamoring from fans online and elsewhere, the Dodgers last week finally pulled the trigger, handing the keys at catcher to rookie Will Smith.

In between starts by Smith on June 25 and July 27, Austin Barnes and Russell Martin were a combined 12-for-91 (.132/.252/.176) with three extra-base hits and eight RBI in 24 games. Smith had three extra-base hits and six RBI in his first start back. Now that’s claiming a position.

The time finally came for a change on Thursday’s off day, with Smith back up from the minors to take over primary backstop duties from Barnes, who didn’t hit at all for two months.

Smith for his part did everything possible to knock the proverbial door down, hitting .269/.381/.605 with 20 home runs in a souped-up Triple-A, including 12 home runs in his previous 19 games with Oklahoma City. Smith also impressed in his pair of stints in the majors this season, even finding the time to slug two walk-off home runs.

Barnes was offered the rope customary for someone who started 25 of the Dodgers’ 31 postseason games the previous two seasons, but a second consecutive struggling month offensively was too much to take. Barnes was hitting a perfectly reasonable .231/.345/.393, a 96 wRC+, through May, but after a brief injured list stint was just 13-for-87, hitting .149/.202/.241.

Emblematic of Barnes’ slide was his disappearing walk rate. A career 12.8% walk rate included 12.2% in the first two months of 2019 for Barnes, but it plummeted to 5.3% since his return from the injured list.

Prior to the switch behind the plate, Dodgers catchers ranked 26th in the majors in batting average (.214), home runs (9) and slugging percentage (.333), 24th in wRC+ (73), and 16th in on-base percentage (.312).

Smith’s home run Saturday — in his first at-bat since rejoining the team — was the first long ball by a Dodgers catcher since June 23, also hit by Smith. He also doubled twice, including one with the bases loaded.

Now Smith gets the bulk of the load, getting a 57-game runway before October baseball beckons, to see if he can continue his hot hitting. The switch gives the Dodgers five homegrown draft picks among the position-playing regulars, with Smith joining Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Alex Verdugo.


Aside from the starting lineup change, last week was a costly one for the Dodgers, who lost two home games to the Angels and in the process lost pitcher Ross Stripling and infielder Kiké Hernandez to injuries, with replacements for both coming this week.

The Dodgers won a series from a red-hot Nationals team but still suffered a losing week, with Sunday’s blowout providing more evidence for the mounting pile of how difficult it is to ask a player to learn a new position on the fly during actual games that count. Joc Pederson at first base has been a turbulent ride to say the least, but a practically guaranteed postseason berth and a bulging divisional lead afford the Dodgers the stubbornness required to fully see this through.

Batter of the week

Will Smith only played in two of the five games last week but still tied for the team lead in extra-base hits and RBI. Honorable mention goes to Justin Turner with his two home runs and to Corey Seager with his .988 OPS in an otherwise quiet week for the offense.

Pitcher of the week

Hyun-jin Ryu continued his stellar campaign, allowing only one run while pitching into the seventh inning on Friday night against Washington. Honorable mention goes to Clayton Kershaw, who pitched six innings and struck out nine on a Saturday that saw the Dodgers pick up their MLB-leading 69th victory.

Week 18 results

2-3 record
23 runs scored (4.60 per game)
24 runs allowed (4.80 per game)
.481 pythagorean record

Season to date

69-38 record
580 runs scored (5.42 per game)
416 runs allowed (3.89 per game)
.648 pythagorean record (69-38)

Miscellany

Century city: Justin Turner’s tiebreaking three-run shot in Friday’s win over the Nationals was his 100th home run with the Dodgers. He’s the 28th player to hit 100 home runs in franchise history, and the second to join the list this season, along with Joc Pederson who hit hit 100th career shot on May 14. Cody Bellinger is likely to join them soon, ending the week at 98 career home runs.

Turning Kole into diamonds: In both Angels wins over the Dodgers last week, Kole Calhoun had two doubles and a home run, the first player with consecutive games of three extra-base hits against the Dodgers since Ernie Banks in 1963. In the four Freeway Series games of 2019, Calhoun was 8-for-14 against the Dodgers, with four doubles and three home runs, with a penchant for extra-base hits against LA reminiscent of another Hall of Famer.

Rookie ribbies: Smith’s triumphant return on Saturday saw him drive in six runs, something only done by two other Dodgers rookie catchers — Bernie Hungling on Apr. 26, 1922, and Al Lopez on Aug. 13, 1930, both with Brooklyn.

All-Star renovations: The Dodgers on Tuesday unveiled the logo for the 2020 All-Star Game as well as plans for renovations to Dodger Stadium in preparation for hosting next year’s midsummer classic. The main thrust of the changes is a revamped plaza beyond center field. There are several renderings provided by the team, but why not just listen to Vin Scully narrate the changes:

Transactions

Tuesday: Catcher Rocky Gale was outrighted to Double-A Tulsa, leaving the Dodgers’ 40-man roster at 38 players.

Thursday: The 40-man roster was back up to 39 after first baseman Tyler White was acquired from the Astros for minor league pitcher Andre Scrubb, an eighth-round draft pick in 2016 who had a 2.45 ERA mostly in relief in 47⅔ innings for Double-A Tulsa.

White, 28, hit just .225/.320/.330 for the Astros this season though in parts of four major league seasons the right-hander is a .241/.319/.420 hitter, a 103 wRC+, including .236/.326/.454 against lefties, a 112 wRC+. White is out of major league options, having used them from 2016-18.

Friday: Austin Barnes was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City, and Will Smith was recalled.

Friday: David Freese was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left hamstring strain, just 12 games after he was activated from his last IL stint. This move opened an active roster spot for White.

Saturday: Right biceps tendinitis sent Ross Stripling to the injured list, as well as opening up Tuesday’s start in Colorado. For now, reliever Jaime Schultz was recalled from Triple-A to join the bullpen.

Sunday: Late Sunday night the Dodgers acquired utility man Kristopher Negron from Seattle for minor league infielder Daniel Castro, giving LA someone who could backup shortstop since Dave Roberts called an injured list stint for Hernandez inevitable.

Negron appeared in just nine games for the Mariners this season and was 5-for-22 (.227) with a walk, while hitting .310/.396/.503 with 12 home runs in 82 games for Triple-A Tacoma. The 33-year-old right-handed batter has played every position put catcher in each of the last three seasons. The addition of Negron gives the Dodgers a full 40-man roster.

Game results

Stats

Week 18 batting

Player AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO HBP SH SF PA BA OBP SLG OPS BABIP Player
Player AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO HBP SH SF PA BA OBP SLG OPS BABIP Player
Smith 6 1 4 2 0 1 6 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 8 0.667 0.625 1.500 2.125 0.600 Smith
Turner 18 4 5 1 0 2 4 0 0 3 5 0 0 0 21 0.278 0.381 0.667 1.048 0.273 Turner
Seager 17 4 6 1 0 1 6 0 0 2 3 0 0 1 20 0.353 0.400 0.588 0.988 0.357 Seager
Hernandez 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0.333 0.333 0.333 0.667 0.333 Hernandez
Pederson 17 2 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 4 7 0 0 0 21 0.235 0.381 0.235 0.616 0.400 Pederson
Bellinger 18 4 4 1 0 0 2 0 0 2 2 1 0 0 21 0.222 0.333 0.278 0.611 0.250 Bellinger
Muncy 15 5 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 6 6 0 0 1 22 0.133 0.364 0.133 0.497 0.200 Muncy
Verdugo 14 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 5 0 0 0 16 0.143 0.250 0.143 0.393 0.222 Verdugo
Barnes 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 4 0.000 0.250 0.000 0.250 0.000 Barnes
Pollock 21 1 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 21 0.095 0.095 0.143 0.238 0.125 Pollock
Starters 132 22 30 6 0 4 21 0 0 20 35 2 0 3 157 0.227 0.331 0.364 0.695 0.271 Starters
Beaty 8 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 9 0.125 0.222 0.250 0.472 0.143 Beaty
Martin 8 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 2 0 0 0 9 0.125 0.222 0.125 0.347 0.167 Martin
White 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 White
Freese 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 n/a Freese
Bench 18 1 2 1 0 0 2 0 0 2 4 0 0 0 20 0.111 0.200 0.167 0.367 0.143 Bench
Pitchers 10 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 1 0 11 0.100 0.100 0.100 0.200 0.167 Pitchers
Offense 160 23 33 7 0 4 23 0 0 22 43 2 1 3 188 0.206 0.305 0.325 0.630 0.250 Offense

Week 18 pitching

Pitcher G GS W L Sv IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP ERA WHIP FIP Pitcher
Pitcher G GS W L Sv IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP ERA WHIP FIP Pitcher
Ryu 1 1 0 0 6.7 8 1 1 0 1 0 4 0 1.35 1.350 2.45 Ryu
Kershaw 1 1 1 0 6.0 3 2 2 0 3 0 9 0 3.00 1.000 1.70 Kershaw
Stripling 1 1 0 1 5.0 3 2 2 1 0 0 2 0 3.60 0.600 5.00 Stripling
Maeda 1 1 0 1 4.3 4 3 3 1 2 0 7 1 6.23 1.385 5.05 Maeda
Buehler 1 1 0 1 5.3 8 7 4 1 3 0 6 1 6.75 2.063 5.64 Buehler
Starters 5 5 1 3 0 27.3 26 15 12 3 9 0 28 2 3.95 1.280 3.79 Starters
Chargois 3 0 0 3.7 3 1 0 0 0 0 3 0 0.00 0.818 1.56 Chargois
Baez 2 0 0 2.0 1 0 0 0 2 0 2 0 0.00 1.500 4.20 Baez
Sadler 1 0 0 1.3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0.00 0.750 1.70 Sadler
Ferguson 1 0 0 1.0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0.00 2.000 6.20 Ferguson
Jansen 2 0 0 1 2.0 2 1 1 0 3 0 3 1 4.50 2.500 6.20 Jansen
Garcia 2 0 0 1.7 3 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 5.40 1.800 9.80 Garcia
Urias 1 0 0 1.7 3 1 1 0 1 0 1 0 5.40 2.400 3.80 Urias
Kelly 2 1 0 1.3 1 1 1 1 1 0 2 0 6.75 1.500 12.20 Kelly
Schultz 1 0 0 2.0 5 4 4 1 1 0 0 0 18.00 3.000 11.20 Schultz
Bullpen 15 0 1 0 1 16.7 20 9 8 3 9 0 13 1 4.32 1.740 5.78 Bullpen
Totals 20 5 2 3 1 44.0 46 24 20 6 18 0 41 3 4.09 1.455 4.54 Totals

Previous weeks in review: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17

The week ahead

The Dodgers run the Jay Payton gauntlet, first making their final 2019 visit to Coors Field to get through the trade deadline Wednesday, then return to Dodger Stadium for four games against the Padres, the start of a 10-game homestand. Stripling’s rotation spot on Tuesday, let alone Sunday, has yet to be officially filled, though if internal most signs point to a return of Tony Gonsolin. The Padres rotation is just a guess at this point, and possibly subject to change should they add a starter before Wednesday’s deadline.

Week 19 schedule

Mon, Jul 29 Tue, Jul 30 Wed, Jul 31 Thu, Aug 1 Fri, Aug 2 Sat, Aug 3 Sun, Aug 4
Mon, Jul 29 Tue, Jul 30 Wed, Jul 31 Thu, Aug 1 Fri, Aug 2 Sat, Aug 3 Sun, Aug 4
at Rockies at Rockies at Rockies vs. Padres vs. Padres vs. Padres vs. Padres
5:40 p.m. 5:40 p.m. 12:10 p.m. 7:10 p.m. 7:10 p.m. 6:10 p.m. 1:10 p.m.
Maeda v. Gonsolin (?) v. Ryu v. Kershaw v. Buehler v. Maeda v. Gonsolin (?) v.
Gray Freeland (L) Marquez Lauer (L) Lucchesi (L) TBD TBD
SNLA SNLA SNLA SNLA SNLA SNLA SNLA