Scott Coolbaugh’s job as hitting coach for the Dodgers triple-A Oklahoma City affiliate is to hone the minor leaguers — prospects, fringe big leaguers, longshots — that populate the clubhouse. Some require mechanical help. Others need to modify their approach. A portion need both to reach the next level.
But, according to Coolbaugh, nothing was egregiously faulty with Austin Barnes’ mechanics or approach when he joined Coolbaugh’s group of pupils last month. He was an unusual case after the Dodgers demoted him to triple A. He just needed to get away from the fishbowl.
“There wasn’t something that was glaring,” Coolbaugh said. “I think it was just a matter of him just taking a step back and come here and play and take some pressure off.”
Barnes, 29, established himself as a major league catcher the last three years, starting behind the plate in two World Series, but the Dodgers deemed a tuneup necessary after a season-and-a-half of struggles at the plate. He was batting .196 with a .616 on-base-plus-slugging percentage this season when they flipped him with rookie Will Smith, who has starred in his brief time in the majors.
Once Barnes arrived for his first extended stint in the minors since 2016, he immediately went to work with Coolbaugh. Subtle changes were made. Things were simplified. Positive outcomes have resulted.
After going one for his first 11, Barnes homered in his next five games for Oklahoma City. Since Aug. 2, he’s 13 for 36 with five home runs, three doubles, eight walks, and six strikeouts.
“I feel better at the plate,” Barnes said. “I feel like I’m swinging at better pitches and recognizing the ball better. So, yeah, I think that was just the result of that. I feel more comfortable.”
Barnes played second base at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark on Monday. The Dodgers are giving him time at that position mostly to give him at-bats without the grind catching every day in the suffocating Oklahoma heat presents. The temperature at first pitch Monday was 100 degrees. The heat index number was worse. An hour and a half later, with the sun down and temperature at a brisk 96, Barnes mashed the first of his two doubles in the Dodgers’ 12-2 win over the Reno Aces.
“To Austin’s credit, he’s been really good with this team,” Oklahoma City manager Travis Barbary said. “Not just with how he’s playing but these guys in this clubhouse love having him here. He seems like he’s having fun, making the best out of the situation that he’s in. Yes, I’m sure it’s a tough situation for Austin, but he’s handled it great.”
Barnes will return to the majors by the beginning of September, if not earlier, and there’s a chance he’ll make the Dodgers’ postseason roster again — in years’ past Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson were playoff participants after late-season stints in the minors. For now, he’s one step away, regrouping far from the spotlight, rediscovering his way.
“I’m just focused on where I’m at right now and getting better,” Barnes said. “Whatever happens, happens.”
POLLOCK REMOVED AS PRECAUTION
A.J. Pollock was removed from the Dodgers’ 15-1 win Tuesday in the sixth inning after his third double in three plate appearances as a precautionary measure, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. Pollock has been dealing with a sore groin, which the Dodgers are closely monitoring.
“With the groin, you got to be really careful that you don’t regress,” Roberts said. “We’ll probably give him tomorrow off, let him come back on the day game [Thursday]. Just make sure he’s completely out of the woods because we’re going to need him moving forward.”
The Dodgers placed first baseman Tyler White on the injured list with a right trap strain and recalled outfielder Kyle Garlick from Oklahoma City on Tuesday before their series opener against the Miami Marlins. . . . Enrique Hernandez said he is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment this weekend. The utility player has been on the injured list since July 29 with a left hand sprain. He took batting practice on the field at Marlins Park and will again Wednesday. . . . Roberts said outfielder Alex Verdugo, who is at the Dodgers’ spring-training facility in Arizona, has been shut down from since baseball activities since going on the injured list with a right oblique strain Aug. 6. Roberts said Verdugo will miss more than two weeks.