Column: Boo birds give Yasmani Grandal an earful
When the Dodger Stadium faithful booed pitcher Pedro Baez last season, Dave Roberts responded with combative adjectives.
“Ridiculous” was one. “Irresponsible” was another.
There was no such fire in Roberts’ retort Monday night, after a sellout crowd booed Yasmani Grandal.
The Dodgers catcher committed his third passed ball in two starts, and he failed to corral a wild pitch that caromed away from him as a run scored.
He also struck out three times, twice when even a fly ball would have scored a run.
Boos rained down upon Grandal.
So did a brief chant of “We Want Austin,” a popular demand for backup catcher Austin Barnes.
The first question put to Roberts after the game was about the boos, about Grandal’s performance on offense and defense, and about how the manager could keep running Grandal out to catch.
Roberts answered the last part of the question in his first four words.
“We’ll play Austin tomorrow,” Roberts said.
At this point, the Dodgers ought to consider starting Barnes not only in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday, but in Game 5 on Wednesday, and evaluate from there.
Grandal in this series has struck out five times in nine at-bats, with three passed balls and two errors.
In this postseason, he is batting .136, with 10 strikeouts in 22 at-bats.
He has driven in one run in 25 plate appearances, as many as Barnes has driven home in four plate appearances.
In his postseason career, Grandal is batting .103, with 30 strikeouts in 68 at-bats.
There is no mystery in Grandal’s game.
He is terrific at framing pitches, not so much at corralling them.
He tied for the National League lead in passed balls this year, led the league last year, tied for the league lead two years ago. The Dodgers believe he more than makes up for any defensive lapses with his bat.
Grandal led National League catchers in on-base percentage this year, and he has led in home runs in three consecutive seasons.
If he is not hitting, his defensive flaws become more glaring, but he told a crowd of reporters after the game that he was not worried about his defense.
“I think it’s driving you guys more nuts than it’s driving me,” Grandal said.
By his count, he said, he had blocked eight balls in the dirt Monday.
He acknowledged disappointment at swinging at bad pitches, at expanding his strike zone in pressing to drive runs in rather than taking a walk.
He took more walks during the regular season than every teammate except Max Muncy.
But his overall game?
“What I see is overall pretty good,” Grandal said. “I don’t really hear the voice outside.
“I value my opinion way over everybody else. That’s what keeps me sane.”
Roberts said that Grandal had become “a little too anxious” in the batter’s box.
And the boos?
“He had a tough night, and obviously the fans voiced their opinion,” Roberts said. “And they’re passionate.
“They want to win.
“They want the best out of all of us, especially in the postseason.
“So I know it’s not personal. I think it’s just one of those things where they were just as frustrated as we were.”
Dodgers second baseman Enrique Hernandez was not quite as forgiving of the fans, who had little to cheer on a night the home team had no runs, no home runs, no hits with runners in scoring position, and 14 strikeouts.
“It sucks that they got loud to show off Yasmani,” Hernandez said. “He’s trying his best.
“Catchers have a lot going on. The game revolves around them. They’re involved in every situation of the game.
“Playoffs, it’s the big leagues.
“If they think they can do it, put on your gear and go catch 99 breaking balls with a lot of movement.
“He’s been one of the best catchers in the game for a while now. He’s having a little bit of a rough patch. It’s just bad timing.”
Barnes was the starting catcher last October.
He started all but one game of the National League Championship Series and every game of the World Series.
Grandal won the job back this season.
However, with Barnes starting Tuesday, Grandal would have missed two of the most recent three starts in the NLCS.
Is Grandal worried the team might be losing confidence in him?
“They’re losing confidence in me?” he asked.
Does he think they are?
“Is that what you think?” he asked.
The answer that matters is what you think, not what a reporter thinks.
“Exactly,” he said.
“At any point, one swing can change a game. I also play a big part in the preparation, and the scouting report that goes into a game, when I’m not starting.
“So if they have the confidence in me to do that, then I’m pretty sure they have the confidence in me to be behind the plate.”
If this were July, the Dodgers could afford to let Grandal play his way out of his offensive and defensive slump.
This is October, and they are two defeats from winter.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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