WASHINGTON -- Throughout a season in which the Dodgers used 15 starting pitchers, the staff's lone constant has crouched behind the plate.Yasmani Grandal had a solid 2016 season with his bat -- setting career highs in home runs, RBIs, OPS and slugging percentage -- but his greatest importance in the
WASHINGTON -- Throughout a season in which the Dodgers used 15 starting pitchers, the staff's lone constant has crouched behind the plate.
Yasmani Grandal had a solid 2016 season with his bat -- setting career highs in home runs, RBIs, OPS and slugging percentage -- but his greatest importance in the National League Division Series against the Nationals comes on the other side of the game. Los Angeles leads the best-of-five series, 1-0, with Game 2 set for Sunday (FS1, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT).
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Despite two full seasons with the Dodgers, Grandal has oddly little experience catching L.A.'s playoff rotation. Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw threw to A.J. Ellis almost exclusively until Ellis was traded in August; Game 2 starter Rich Hill arrived from Oakland in late July; Game 3 starter Kenta Maeda is a rookie; and likely Game 4 starter (if necessary) Julio Urías has made only 15 Major League starts.
Leading a largely unfamiliar staff seems like a daunting task, but manager Dave Roberts has full confidence in his catcher.
"The catching, the framing, the throwing, is elite," Roberts said Saturday. "Just the game-calling, which he's becoming more and more comfortable with and confident, and you know, no one works harder."
Grandal will have a particularly tough challenge in Sunday's Game 2, given that Hill, according to the catcher, "seems like he has got five different curveballs and three different fastballs."
During the 2016 regular season, Hill threw curveballs 42.4 percent of the time, more than any other pitcher with at least 100 innings pitched, using a variety of arm angles.
"You don't know what his curveball is going to do when he drops down. You don't know what his curveball is going to do when he's throwing it over the top," Grandal said. "At times, it is a little challenging just to catch the ball to try and help him out behind home plate, and to make sure that I help him out doing what I'm capable of doing behind home plate."
A day later, in Game 3, Grandal will face another set of obstacles when he catches Maeda -- a rookie in his first postseason, who struggled over his final two starts, possibly due to stress from a workload he wasn't used to in Japan. If the Dodgers start Urias in Game 4, Grandal will again need to guide an inexperienced pitcher with durability concerns.
Though the switch-hitting Grandal provides pop to the bottom of the Dodgers' order, he said Saturday that's not his priority.
"It's just for me, it makes me sleep better when I know I'm doing a good job behind the plate instead of hitting," Grandal said. "You know, if I hit, that's just one of those things where it's a plus. But if I don't, and we come out with a win, I'm still sleeping nice and tight."
Alex Putterman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.