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Small velo variation making it tough for Kershaw

Barnes gets nod over Grandal at catcher in NLCS Game 2
October 13, 2018

MILWAUKEE -- In the wake of Clayton Kershaw's latest October stumble, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was asked if the small velocity variation between the lefty's fastball and slider makes it easier for high-quality teams to attack."There is something to the similar velocities and the margin for error," Roberts said. "Clayton's

MILWAUKEE -- In the wake of Clayton Kershaw's latest October stumble, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was asked if the small velocity variation between the lefty's fastball and slider makes it easier for high-quality teams to attack.
"There is something to the similar velocities and the margin for error," Roberts said. "Clayton's got weapons -- whether it's using both sides of the plate, whether it's changing eye level, whether it's the breaking ball. That's the challenge for him, to continue to exploit hitters' weaknesses, because there's one side of going to your strength, and there's another of exploiting a weakness. Clayton has the ability to do both, and now it's up to us to move forward with that."
:: NLCS schedule and results ::
Kershaw's inability over the years to develop a true changeup, despite repeated attempts, is more obvious since his fastball velocity has dipped. Messing with a hitter's timing is critical to pitching success, and that's the entire purpose of a changeup. His average fastball this year was 90.7 mph, the slider was 88 mph.
Roberts was hesitant to weigh in on whether Kershaw's difficulties in the postseason (8-8, 4.26 ERA) makes pitching in October a greater challenge.
"I can see that he wants to pitch well in the postseason," Roberts said. "He's very conscious of certain narratives out there. Does he feel extra motivation or incentive to pitch well in the postseason? Maybe. But when he takes the baseball, I don't think that's in the forefront of his mind. It's what it always is, to execute a pitch."
Grandal sits following rough Game 1
It is not a coincidence that the Dodgers started Austin Barnes over Yasmani Grandal at catcher in Game 2. Grandal allowed two passed balls and committed two errors in a 6-5 loss in Game 1.
"There were a couple points in the game I think that it sped up on him a little bit," Roberts said. "He started every playoff game up to this point, but to have this battery with Austin, I really feel good about [it]. To have [Grandal] sit for half a game and potentially be ready to hit later or something like [that] I feel great about."
Roberts had little explanation for Grandal's struggles blocking and catching the ball, but he opined that Grandal's ability to frame pitches as well as any catcher in the Majors might be a factor.
"I think at times that's plausible, especially when you're trying to catch a low strike or steal a ball down below the zone," Roberts said. "You compromise sometimes catching the ball. I think not only him, but catchers across the league, are guilty of that, too. Because the pitch framing is at such a premium right now and we can quantify that, so catchers, whether they admit it or not, are very mindful of the pitch framing."

Grandal caught Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu 11 times in the regular season, with Ryu posting a 2.61 ERA. Barnes caught him four times, and Ryu compiled a 0.38 ERA with Barnes.
Roberts said he liked Barnes over Grandal because Barnes has "got some history" with Brewers left-hander Wade Miley.
There is some history there, but not much. Barnes has one hit in four career plate appearances against Miley. Barnes went 1-for-2 with a single on July 31 at Dodger Stadium and lined out twice on July 20 at Miller Park.
Grandal, meanwhile, is 3-for-13 with one double, one home run, three RBIs, two walks and two strikeouts (.872 OPS) against Miley.
Catcher was not the only notable lineup change for the Dodgers. They turned to Yasiel Puig in right field, a relatively rare start for him against a left-hander. It put Chris Taylor in center field, taking the place of struggling Cody Bellinger, who is 0-for-15 this postseason.
"With Yasiel, it was more of I like him against Miley," Roberts said. "I think he's a low-ball hitter. I think he can stay in the strike zone. The left-handed velocity is not what Miley features. I like the defense in right field. And I think Yasiel is also going to bring some energy today."
Fields stays ready
Josh Fields hasn't been on the roster for either series this postseason, but the Dodgers have the reliever working like he will be.
Fields pitched in a simulated game last Sunday and on Saturday morning threw a bullpen session, so he will be ready if the Dodgers reach the World Series, or sooner if an injury replacement is needed.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.