Dodgers’ Austin Barnes breaks out offensively, with some help from Mookie Betts
Austin Barnes was wary of offering specifics or casting an unwanted spotlight on his newest teammate’s contributions behind the scenes. The Dodgers catcher knows Mookie Betts doesn’t crave any extra commendation or clamor for undue credit.
Still, when asked Tuesday about his relationship with the superstar right fielder, Barnes couldn’t help but gush about the former MVP.
“I can’t say enough about him and what he’s doing in the clubhouse,” Barnes said. “He’s helped me tremendously. I don’t know if he wants it all out there. He wants it under the radar I think. But he’s helped me swinging-wise, he really has. Just talking the game, talking about hitting.”
With Betts’ help, Barnes has broken out offensively over the last week.
Good news, Los Angeles. The Dodgers’ $365-million man Mookie Betts isn’t fool’s gold. He isn’t a well-made facsimile. He’s the genuine article.
Following a two-for-22 start — struggles that seemed similar to the combined .204 batting average Barnes posted over the 2018 and 2019 seasons — the 30-year-old backstop has hit safely in seven straight games, matching a career-high, and raised his batting average to a .304 mark that ranks third-best on the team.
He recorded his fifth multi-hit game of that stretch Tuesday, going two-for-two with a walk and stolen base while scoring both runs in the Dodgers’ 2-1 win over the Seattle Mariners.
For the first time in years, Barnes’ sound defense is eclipsed by damage done at the plate. Even from the nine-spot in the batting order, he’s provided a key spark to baseball’s highest-scoring offense.
“I feel good mentally up there now; I feel free mentally,” Barnes said. “I was a little cloudy before, and it’s hard to hit like that. But when your mechanics are in the right spot, you feel like you can put a swing on the ball and it makes it a lot easier.”
Though Barnes has caught some breaks of late, benefiting from a .419 batting average on balls in play that far and away leads all Dodgers hitters, there has been a clear shift in his confidence, too, evident in a newfound ability to attack pitches over the plate and connect with increasingly hard contact.
Fernando Tatis Jr.'s grand slam for the San Diego Padres renewed the debate over whether baseball’s unwritten rules have a place in the modern game.
Barnes is “taking swings with conviction,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s worked really hard, with Mookie, with the hitting guys, it’s been a long process. But Austin’s in a really good place.”
Indeed, Barnes had been targeting such a turnaround long before Betts arrived in February.
Despite being one of the better pitch framers in the game, his limitations at the plate have limited his effectiveness in the big leagues. Last year, the Riverside native was sent down to triple-A Oklahoma City for the first time since 2016 and failed to make the Dodgers’ postseason roster.
That led him to work closely with the Dodgers hitting staff this offseason, putting a renewed focus on swing mechanics that have paid off during this recent offensive revitalization.
But Barnes noted that Betts had played an important role, too, offering encouragement and wisdom during conversations in the dugout and before games.
“He’s helped me in the cage, actually been in the cage with me watching me swing,” Barnes said. “That just shows you what kind of teammate he is, to take time out of his day to help someone else.”
Reliever Joe Kelly, previously a teammate of Betts with the Boston Red Sox, first mentioned the pair’s partnership last week following Betts’ three-home-run game — a night that saw Barnes and Betts hit the first back-to-back home runs of the Dodgers’ season.
“Barnsey going deep, I think that helped Mookie hit his second bomb of the game,” Kelly said during a radio interview with AM 570. “Mookie gets pumped on stuff like that, when he helps people out and sees success.”
Roberts has seen similar scenes play out with Betts all season.
“The conversations he’s having on the bench with the players about hitting approach, he’s just a very unselfish player,” the manager said. “He’s got a lot of knowledge and information and insight. It’s a back-and-forth. Those conversations are always helpful.”
It’s why, even after a game Tuesday in which Betts recorded a rare 0-for-4, the right fielder remained at the center of attention, his impact away from the field proving to be almost as profound as his production at the plate.
“He’s contagious, what he does around the clubhouse, the way he works,” Barnes reiterated in a postgame TV interview. “Just the way he plays the game, it’s good for the club.”
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.