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Smith homers, has 6 RBIs in breakout day for LA

July 27, 2019

WASHINGTON -- The last hit for baby-faced Will Smith before Saturday’s win came on June 23: A walk-off homer his first game up amid his second Major League stint, capping off a wild stretch of three consecutive Gatorade showers in Los Angeles. Three days later, Smith was sent back to

WASHINGTON -- The last hit for baby-faced Will Smith before Saturday’s win came on June 23: A walk-off homer his first game up amid his second Major League stint, capping off a wild stretch of three consecutive Gatorade showers in Los Angeles.

Three days later, Smith was sent back to Triple-A Oklahoma City. In the 23 games since, the catching duo of Russell Martin and Austin Barnes combined for eight RBIs and three extra base hits.

Box score

Not only was Smith’s first hit back with the big league club -- his first game since being named the starting catcher -- another homer amid Saturday’s 9-3 win over the Nationals at Nationals Park, it was the first long ball from a Dodgers catcher since … June 23.

“So far I’ve done pretty well in bigger situations,” said Smith, who has now hit four homers in 29 at-bats this year, “and it gives you the confidence in those next situations that, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’”

Along with his solo shot, Smith finished the day with a pair of doubles and a run-scoring sac fly. All told, his 3-for-3 day that tallied six RBIs doubled his career total and were the most for a Dodger rookie since James Loney recorded nine in 2006. He passed Mike Piazza for the most RBIs as a Los Angeles rookie catcher and joined Bernie Hungling (in ‘22) and Al Lopez (in ‘30) in the franchise ranks as the only rookie catchers to put up a six-spot.

“What can you say?” asked Saturday’s starter, Clayton Kershaw. “It was really impressive all the way around.”

“He’s got it,” added Smith’s locker mate Cody Bellinger, who contributed an RBI single in the win. “He’s got what you need to be a catcher in the big leagues.”

Even more importantly, Smith’s day showed what Los Angeles’ lineup can be without an offensive black hole in the catcher’s spot. For as potent the Dodgers lineup is regardless, production from the catcher’s spot will be integral -- especially in October -- to truly keeping opposing pitchers without moments of respite. So far in 2019, the Dodgers’ -0.7 WAR from the catcher’s spot ranks 21st out of 30 teams and worst among LA’s position players.

“We have a long lineup as it is, but when you get a guy in there in Will who can turn the lineup over, who can drive runs in and who can hit a ball hard, it’s just really tough to navigate. It really is,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “He’s not going to drive in six every night, but I think you can bet on the quality and to do what he does behind the plate. A two-way player, it’s special.”

Before he was sent down to Oklahoma City on Friday, the 2019 season had been incredibly trying for Barnes, who was hitting just .196/.288/.328 with a 64 OPS+ in 204 at-bats. There was never any expectation for Martin, whom the Dodgers acquired from Toronto in the offseason, to be the nightly catcher. It was Barnes’ job to lose, and he lost it.

Although the Dodgers’ decision to name Smith as their starting catcher going forward seemed like a quick-trigger call, the youngster wasted no time in backing up his organization’s decision.

Along with his solo homer in the third inning Saturday, Smith added a sac fly in the fourth -- one that looked like homer No. 2 off the bat -- an RBI double in the sixth and a bases-clearing double in the seventh.

“As a younger minor league player there was a lot of swing and miss … and there was a question of him being able to consistently make contact,” Roberts said.

Smith did not swing and miss on a single pitch all afternoon.

“Credit to him,” Roberts continued. “There are mechanical changes he’s made in the calendar year, and he really understand his body position and giving himself a chance with balls in the strike zone.”

And Smith did his part on defense, catching six innings of two-run ball from Kershaw who picked up his ninth win of the season in the victory. Kershaw struck out nine, allowing just three hits and three walks, and the future Hall of Famer doled out props to his rookie catcher.

“Anybody who’s prepared, I trust,” Kershaw said. “I didn’t shake him off today very much at all, and as we get going it’ll become less and less.”

“You always want to get off to a good start,” Smith said. “And luckily, tonight, I was able to. Hopefully I can keep it going.”