The Dodgers’ decision to option Austin Barnes to triple A on Thursday was fueled, first and foremost, by the catcher’s offensive struggles. For the past two seasons, Barnes has been one of the worst hitters in the sport. At some point, even with a huge lead in the division, the Dodgers had to patch the glaring hole in an otherwise elite lineup.
But Barnes’ difficulties were not the only motivation for their actions. While he failed to reverse course, Will Smith continued producing for triple-A Oklahoma City and convincing the organization his offensive skill set — in question as late as last winter — was ready for the big leagues.
So the 24-year-old rookie rejoined the Dodgers for his third stint in the majors Friday and will be thrust into a significant role immediately. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Smith will be the club’s “primary” catcher. The 36-year-old Russell Martin, who started Friday, will serve as his backup, playing “a couple times a week.”
“It was a big part of it and I think that for any decision that we make, you also have to have a solution,” Roberts said. “And to have Will playing the way he’s been playing so consistently on both sides of the baseball just made a very difficult decision a little bit easier.”
Smith batted .269 with 20 home runs and a .986 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 61 games for Oklahoma City. There’s a good chance he won’t go back. The Dodgers could wait until Sept. 1 to recall Barnes when rosters expand, giving thems ample opportunity to evaluate Smith and decide whether to put him on the postseason roster. His first two stints in the majors indicated he could: Smith went seven for 26 with three home runs while seamlessly working with the pitching staff. Dodgers catchers went 12 for 87 (.138) with three extra-base hits since Smith was last optioned June 26.
“He’s been very consistent,” Roberts said. “He’s performed, really, big time. . . . He’s checked every box and now you got to go out there and give him a little bit of runway.”
Roberts said he and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman informed Barnes of the team’s decision to send him to the minors Wednesday after their loss to the Angels. Roberts described it as difficult, but necessary for both sides.
“It’s more of just trying to get him back on track offensively, I think just to get him back in a good place, mentally and mechanically,” Roberts said. “He’s a major league player and helps us in so many ways, in the clubhouse, behind the plate. But we just see him as an offensive player as well. so to get him back, just to get out of this hot box is going to be best for him and it’ll ultimately help us as well.”
David Freese lands on injured list
The Dodgers placed David Freese on the 10-day injured list with a left hamstring strain Friday. The transaction created a spot on the roster for Tyler White, who was acquired from the Houston Astros on Thursday. White, 28, batted .225 with three home runs and a .650 OPS in 71 games for the Astros this season, but had 15 home runs and an .880 OPS in 88 games the previous two years.
White, like Freese a right-handed hitter, cited a lack of consistent at-bats as a reason for his struggles. Roberts said the Dodgers see him as a Max Muncy-type project, someone they believe has hitting potential they can tap into. For now, White will assume Freese’s role as their starting first baseman against left-handed starting pitchers and as a pinch-hitter.
Ross Stripling played catch Friday for the first time since leaving his start Wednesday with a stiff neck. Stripling reported the neck felt better and the Dodgers expect him to make his next start Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies. To do that, he’ll need to throw a bullpen this weekend. . . . Enrique Hernandez underwent an MRI exam on his left hand Friday after injuring the hand during a swing Wednesday. Hernandez, however, said he did not know the results of the exam when he spoke with the media after the game.