WASHINGTON -- Make no mistake, even though manager Dave Roberts already did with his Friday lineup: Will Smith will be the Dodgers’ starting catcher going forward.
Roberts says Smith will start roughly three out of every five games going forward with veteran Russell Martin taking the rest. Pregame Friday, however, the skipper accidentally had penciled in Smith to start the series opener against the Nationals, but a realized mental mistake and revised lineup later showed Martin as the one set to catch Hyun-Jin Ryu.
“Seeing him on a big league field and how he’s conducted his at-bats, handling the pitching staff, following game plans, and even in big spots against good pitching, how he handles himself staying in the strike zone,” Roberts said of what they see in Smith, who was batting .269/.381/.605 with 20 homers and 54 RBIs in 61 games with Oklahoma City.
“And what he’s done at the Triple-A level. He’s been very consistent, and he’s performed -- big time. He’s checked every box and now you have to go out there and give him a little bit of runway.”
These signs, Roberts said, made the decision to call up Smith -- who is now in his second stint with the big league club after batting .269/.345/.654 in nine games in May-June -- and give him the nod as starter all the more easier.
But it didn’t make sending Barnes down any easier.
Entering the year, hopes were high for the 29-year-old Barnes, who is in his first season as the primary catcher after the departure of Yasmani Grandal in the offseason. While the defense and pitch-calling haven’t lagged terribly, the offense just never showed up. Barnes was batting .196/.288/.328 in 204 at-bats before heading back to Oklahoma.
“It’s more of trying to get him back on track offensively. Just to get him back in a good place mentally and mechanically,” Roberts said. “He’s a Major League catcher. He helps us in so many ways, in the clubhouse and behind the plate. But we see him as an offensive player as well. To get him back just out of this hot box, it’s going to be best for him, and it’ll ultimately help us as well.”
Stripling left after 62 pitches Wednesday with a stiff neck that hampered velocity and mechanics, but he played catch at Nationals Park pregame Friday and felt his neck well-loosened up afterwards, Roberts said. With his turn in the rotation coming Tuesday, throwing a bullpen session either Saturday or Sunday will give the Dodgers the final answer if he’ll be good to go against the Rockies.
“Right now, we expect him to make his next start,” Roberts said. “We’ll know more as each day goes on.”
As for Hernandez, Roberts had not yet seen results from an MRI on his left hand after the utility man left Wednesday’s game following an awkward swing-and-miss in the fourth inning. But Roberts did know that his availability on Friday will be limited exclusively to defense.