Austin Barnes Give the Dodgers an Unlikely Lift at the Plate

Austin Barnes Give the Dodgers an Unlikely Lift at the Plate

“I just think his ability to call a game, to see the game from behind home plate, his ability to receive — and he gives you a tough at-bat,” Roberts said, explaining his faith in Barnes. “We have two very good catchers in Will and Austin, but it just shows how much we trust him in big games and he’s done it for us time and time again.”

Barnes, 30, is a six-year veteran who averaged 58 starts per season from 2017 through 2019. He started more often in this shortened regular season — 27 of the Dodgers’ 60 games — partly because of an injury to Smith in August. Barnes hit .244 but proved his effectiveness by getting 52.8 percent of borderline pitches called for strikes, according to Statcast. That ranked Barnes third of 62 all major league catchers, while Smith (44.2 percent) ranked 58th.

The Dodgers acquired Barnes in a trade with Miami in December 2014, two months after Andrew Friedman took over Los Angeles’s baseball operations. Barnes had not played above Class AA then, but had recently learned to frame pitches with the help of Hector Rabago, then a catching coach in the Yankees’ farm system who, like Barnes, had attended Riverside Poly High School in California.

“He kind of showed me some stuff I didn’t really believe in at the time,” Barnes said. “But the Yankees were really ahead of everybody in that department, and he showed me a lot of stuff that translated into more strikes.”

For the Dodgers, that skill was important enough to put Yasmani Grandal, a much more dangerous hitter, on the bench for most of their last two World Series. Grandal made only 10 plate appearances in those series, while Barnes had 37. He hit miserably (4 for 23 against the Astros, 0 for 11 against Boston), and was left off the playoff roster last fall, when the Dodgers lost a division series to Washington.

“You still got those nerves for the guys and obviously want them to win,” said Barnes, whose average had dipped to .203 last season. “It’s nice to be in these games to have a little bit of control behind the plate.”

Barnes was 4 for 40 in his World Series career when he came to bat against Charlie Morton in the fourth inning of Game 3, with runners at the corners and one out. If Barnes bunted toward the slow-footed Ji-Man Choi at first base, Roberts said, he believed Cody Bellinger could score from third, with Joc Pederson taking second.

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