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Dodgers like Will Smith’s bat in the middle of the lineup

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Smith bats fifth again Thursday, might DH Saturday

Los Angeles Dodgers defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks in 10 innings. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Will Smith is behind the plate for the Dodgers for their series opener against the Rockies in Denver, the second time this season he’s caught three straight days.

After an abbreviated summer camp and nearly four months of downtime, the Dodgers earlier in the season were splitting the catcher workload rather evenly, such that neither Smith nor Austin Barnes caught games on consecutive days until 2½ weeks into the regular season.

Dodgers-Rockies lineups

Pos Dodgers Pos Rockies
Pos Dodgers Pos Rockies
RF Betts LF Tapia (L)
SS Seager (L) SS Story
DH Turner RF Blackmon (L)
1B Muncy 3B Arenado
C Smith CF Pillar
CF Bellinger (L) DH Kemp
2B Taylor 1B Fuentes
LF Hernández 2B Hampson
3B Ríos (L) C Wolters (L)
Julio Urías vs. Kyle Freeland on the mound

But since Smith returned from a sore neck on August 23, he’s resumed a more traditional starting catcher workload. Thursday will be his 15th start behind the plate in the last 22 games. He’s also thrived at the plate, becoming one of the Dodgers’ best hitters.

Smith is hitting .310/.427/.627 with six home runs and seven doubles in 29 games. Of the 261 major league batters with at least 100 plate appearances this season, Smith’s 175 wRC+ ranks sixth.

He cut his chase rate (swinging at pitches outside the strike zone) from 22.6 percent as a rookie to just 13.2 percent this year. Smith’s improved plate discipline includes a jump in walk rate (9.2 percent to 17.5 percent) and a plummeting strikeout rate (26.5 percent to 14.6 percent).

Smith is batting fifth on Thursday, the fourth time in his last five starts in that spot in the batting order. In the other game, he batted cleanup. He’s been so good at the plate that he was designated hitter for a game last week, and will probably do so again on Saturday when Barnes catches Clayton Kershaw.

“I like his bat, versus left, versus right,” manager Dave Roberts said on a conference call Thursday. “If there’s a situation where Austin is going to catch in a playoff game, I could absolutely see Will DH-ing.”

Notes

  • The earliest Joc Pederson will be activated from the family medical emergency list is Tuesday. “That could change. Obviously, family first,” Roberts said. “But the goal is to see him back on the field and in the lineup Tuesday, depending on who the pitcher is.”
  • Caleb Ferguson, who tore his UCL on Tuesday in San Diego, is expected to have Tommy John surgery some time next week.
  • Mitch White, Keibert Ruiz, and Scott Alexander are on the taxi squad for this road trip. White remains an option to be called up to pitch Friday, though that could depend on how the bullpen is used in Thursday’s game. “It’s going to be a bullpen day,” Roberts said. “There’s no one person I expect to take the bulk, like Dustin [May] did yesterday. As far as a starter, I just don’t know who it is yet.”
  • The Rockies made a roster move before Thursday’s game, recalling right-hander Jesus Tinoco from their alternate training site, and optioning outfielder Sam Hilliard.