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Dodgers eying Thursday return for Will Smith: ‘It’s a progression’

Plus, the Barnes/Wynns catching plan vs. Mets

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Dodgers catcher Will Smith won’t play during the three-game series against the Mets at Dodger Stadium, but the team is eying Thursday’s series opener at Wrigley Field in Chicago for Smith’s return, the earliest day he’s eligible to be activated off the seven-day concussion injured list.

“The hope is to activate him [Thursday], but it’s all contingent on how he’s feeling,” manager Dave Roberts said.

Smith has hit directly in his catcher’s mask by three foul balls last Tuesday against the Giants, the middle game of a three-game set in San Francisco. He said he felt fine on Wednesday, and had two hits, a walk, and a sacrifice fly in the Dodgers win.

But Thursday was when Smith started to experience headaches and dizziness, which Roberts described Sunday as feeling “foggy.”

“I took three foul tips to the face,” Smith said Monday at Dodger Stadium. “That’s kind of a lot for one game. Usually it’s one, maybe two.”

Dodgers-Mets lineups

Mets Pos Dodgers Pos
Mets Pos Dodgers Pos
Nimmo (L) CF Betts RF
Marte RF Freeman (L) 1B
Lindor (S) SS Martinez DH
Alonso 1B Taylor LF
McNeil (L) 2B Muncy (L) 3B
Canha LF Vargas 2B
Vogelbach DH Thompson CF
Baty (L) 3B Rojas SS
Nido C Wynns C
Dustin May vs. David Peterson on the mound

Smith didn’t play Friday or Saturday against the Cubs, and went through a battery of tests. Still feeling symptoms, Saturday was when it was ruled that he experienced a concussion, setting in motion the Dodgers signing Austin Wynns to backup Austin Barnes behind the plate, with Smith placed on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday, retroactive to Thursday.

Smith participated in a full workout before Monday’s game, and also hit in the cage. He said he feels better than he did over the weekend, but wasn’t yet ready to declare himself fit to play on Thursday in Chicago.

“My number one priority is getting back to 100 percent. I don’t want to rush this. There’s plenty of things you can play through and deal with, but head stuff, concussion stuff is not something anyone should mess with,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a progression. We’ll see how I recover after today. ... It’s day by day.”

Barnes caught all three games of the series against the Cubs, and Wynns will make his Dodgers debut catching Dustin May and batting ninth. Roberts said Wynns went through a crash course on Sunday, mostly learning signs and studying up on May.

Barnes will catch Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday night, with catching duties for Wednesday’s series finale still to be determined. The daytime start factors in, because the Dodgers in recent years have typically avoided starting a catcher in a day game after catching the night game before. They didn’t do it at all during the 2022 season, with Barnes catching Saturday and Sunday against the Cubs the first such instance of 2023.

“We’ll just see how [Barnes] feels after [Tuesday’s] game to see if he’s going to catch that day game,” Roberts said.

Getting Smith back isn’t just about catching, but also adding back the third-best hitter on the team to the lineup. During the three-game series against Chicago, the Dodgers scored only six runs — two in each game.

“Will is a big part of the offense, as far as lengthening the lineup. So when he’s not in there it kind of changes the structure,” Roberts said Monday. “But we’ve still got to go out there, and we’ve still got a lot of good players.”