We’re actually talking about catcher Austin Barnes, who just finished a 1-for-17 road trip and came into the game batting .190.
Barnes outproduced the record-setting Bellinger, he quarterbacked Hyun-Jin Ryu’s solid seven innings and saved a run by blocking a pitch in the dirt with a runner on third, the least glamorous task of the least glamorous position on the field.
“Barnes is a great catcher and when I let go of the pitch, even though I knew it was in the dirt, I had no concern or worry that it might get away from him,” Ryu said of the second-inning play that prevented the tying run from scoring.
Home runs and two-run doubles make the video clips, but Barnes said saving a run on defense counts, too.
“You take pride in that, for sure,” he said. “We want that pitch in the dirt and thankfully, I squared it in my chest.”
He also squared up a few pitches from Chris Archer, something he did little of during the trip through Milwaukee and Chicago.
“I started the season off pretty good, then hit a little bit of a skid,” Barnes said. “Rob [Van Scoyoc, hitting coach] saw something in the video and said this is the difference he sees and it felt good today.”
With Yasmani Grandal now in Milwaukee, the Dodgers have hitched their wagon to Barnes, who has always received high marks for his pitch framing, game planning and ability to work with pitchers. He’s carried a greater load over the past two weeks with Russell Martin on the injured list.
Manager Dave Roberts said seeing Barnes’ bat come to life is just the final piece the Dodgers are hoping for.
“It was really good to see. He took really good at-bats tonight,” said Roberts. “For his confidence, that homer [his third, and first since March 31] was big [extending the lead to 3-1] and the double later was just as big [making it 6-2]. I think Austin is on to something, the confidence is coming back and tonight, to get the results, and hopefully it continues to carry on.”
Ryu struck out 10 for the first time since 2014 and, as usual, didn’t walk anyone.
Ryu said he was taught in elementary school that it’s better to allow a home run than a walk. Maybe that’s why, he suggested, he has allowed six home runs in only 27 1/3 innings, but also has 33 strikeouts and only the two walks. He has 58 strikeouts and no walks in his last 56 innings at home, dating to Aug. 26, 2018.
“It’s his pitchability, it’s pretty special.” Barnes said of Ryu’s command of a four-pitch mix. “He battled through it, like he always does, and nothing seems to faze him.”
Not even when the first two Pittsburgh batters reached base, Adam Frazier on a line single off the glove of shortstop Corey Seager and Melky Cabrera on a soft single to right that sent Frazier to third. The Pirates scored their run on a 3-6-3 double-play grounder by Gregory Polanco.
The Dodgers answered with thunder. Justin Turner punched the first of three singles through the shifted infield on an 0-2 pitch with two outs, and on a 2-1 changeup Bellinger sent a screaming liner to the right-field pavilion off Archer.
Credit Barnes for keeping the lead intact in the second inning, when Francisco Cervelli singled and was doubled to third by Bryan Reynolds. Barnes blocked a 2-2 curve at the feet of batter Cole Tucker to keep Cervelli at third and on a 3-2 pitch Tucker struck out. Archer tapped out to Turner, who charged and threw a strike to first to end the inning.
In the bottom of the second, Barnes contributed with his bat, launching his third home run on a full count with two out. Josh Bell countered leading off the top of the fourth for Pittsburgh with a line-drive homer to center.
The Dodgers hustled to their fourth run in the fourth after walks to A.J. Pollock and Max Muncy, then a flare single to right by Enrique Hernandez. Right fielder Polanco overran the ball for an error, allowing Pollock to score and Muncy to take third. With runners on the corners, Barnes doubled them home.