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Dodgers Dugout: Will the real Austin Barnes please stand up?

Austin Barnes of the Dodgers.
Austin Barnes was hitting .304 through Wednesday.
(Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell. Guess what? There are only 32 games left in the season.

In last Friday’s newsletter, I wrote this about Austin Barnes: “Austin Barnes, and I say this with all due respect to his defense, is not a good hitter.”

Since then, here is what Barnes has done in each game:

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Friday: two for four with a run scored
Saturday: one for five
Monday: two for four
Tuesday: two for two, two runs scored, one walk.
Thursday: One for three, one run scored, one walk

That’s eight for 18, a .444 average. He is now hitting .306 this season. On Aug. 8, he was hitting .091.

To what does Barnes owe this resurgence? He credits Mookie Betts.

“I can’t say enough about him and what he’s doing in the clubhouse,” Barnes told reporters earlier this week. “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.

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“He’s helped me in the cage, actually been in the cage with me watching me swing. That just shows you what kind of teammate he is, to take time out of his day to help someone else.

“I feel good mentally up there now; I feel free mentally. 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.”

A Barnes that hits like he did in 2017 (.289/.408/.486) is a very valuable player. And who knows, maybe his recent announcement that he and his wife are expecting a baby has helped him focus more too.

But we all know the real reason he is hitting better: Because of what I wrote. Such are my powers. Let’s test them: “Dodgers Dugout readers just can’t win the Lotto no matter what they do.”

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You’re welcome.

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Why was Tony Gonsolin sent down?

Tony Gonsolin was sent to the alternate camp on Wednesday. This is the same Tony Gonsolin who has made three starts for the Dodgers, giving up a grand total of zero runs and six hits in 14 2/3 innings, striking out 12 and walking two. He has been their best starter this season. So why was he sent down and not, say, Ross Stripling, who has a 5.61 ERA in five starts?

It’s simple, really: Gonsolin has minor-league options left on his contract while the other starters don’t. The Dodgers don’t need six starters right now and would rather have an extra arm in the bullpen, so they sent Gonsolin down and recalled a reliever. Why not just send Gonsolin to the bullpen? Because they want him to continue to have the arm strength to start and pitch six or seven innings. They can maintain that arm strength at the alternate camp. Why not just send Stripling to the bullpen? Well, it’s good to have six starters, in case one gets injured. The Dodgers at one point had a plethora of starters, but David Price opted out this season and Alex Wood is hurt, so they really only have six viable candidates right now.

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What if they had tried to send Stripling down? Since his is out of options, he would have to be designated for assignment, which means any of the other teams could claim him on waivers. And someone would claim Stripling.

How do options work? Here it is, as explained at MLB.com:

Players on a 40-man roster are given three Minor League “options.” An option allows that player to be sent to the Minor Leagues (“optioned”) without first being subjected to waivers. Players who are optioned to the Minors are removed from a team’s active 26-man roster but remain on the 40-man roster.

A player who is on the 40-man roster but does not open the season on the 26-man roster or the injured list must be optioned to the Minor Leagues. Once an optioned player has spent at least 20 days in the Minors in a given season, he loses one of his options. Only one Minor League option is used per season, regardless of how many times a player is optioned to and from the Minors over the course of a given season. Out-of-options players must be designated for assignment — which removes them from the 40-man roster — and passed through outright waivers before being eligible to be sent to the Minors.

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Players typically have three option years, but those who have accrued less than five full seasons (including both the Major and Minors) are eligible for a fourth if their three options have been exhausted already. For the purposes of this rule, spending at least 90 days on an active Major League or Minor League roster during a given season counts as one full season. Players also earn a full season if they spend at least 30 days on an active Major League or Minor League roster and their active-roster and injured-list time amounts to at least 90 days in a given season.

Upon being optioned to the Minor Leagues, a position player must remain there for a minimum of 10 days before he is eligible to be recalled to the Major League roster. For pitchers, the minimum is 15 days. If a player is serving as the 27th man for a doubleheader or replacing a player who has been placed on the injured list, there is no minimum number of days for which the optioned player must remain in the Minors.

A player’s option years do not need to be used in succession. Any player with fewer than five years of Major League service time and an option year remaining can be optioned to the Minor Leagues. Players with more than five years of service time must consent to being optioned.

——

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Don’t worry, Gonsolin will be back. I would expect, as of right now, that when Wood comes off the IL, they will send Stripling to the bullpen.

Movin’ on up

Clayton Kershaw struck out 11 Mariners on Thursday to move into second place on the Dodgers’ all-time list.

Player, K’s, K per 9IP

1. Don Sutton, 2,696, 6.36

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2. Clayton Kershaw, 2,493, 9.76

3. Don Drysdale, 2,486, 6.52

4. Sandy Koufax, 2,396, 9.28

5. Dazzy Vance, 1,918, 6.26

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6. Fernando Valenzuela, 1,759, 6.4

7. Orel Hershiser, 1,456, 6.01

8. Johnny Podres, 1,331, 5.90

9. Ramon Martinez, 1,314, 6.83

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10. Bob Welch, 1,292, 6.39

Best start

The Dodgers are 19-8 after 27 games. The best 27-game starts in Dodger history, since 1901:

1955 Dodgers, 23-4 (season record: 98-55, won World Series)
1977 Dodgers, 22-5 (98-66, lost in World Series)
1941 Dodgers, 21-6 (100-54, lost in World Series)
1983 Dodgers, 20-7 (91-71, lost in NLCS)
1952 Dodgers, 20-7 (96-57, lost in World Series)
2009 Dodgers, 19-8 (95-67, lost in NLCS)
1942 Dodgers, 19-8 (104-50, did not make postseason)
1965 Dodgers, 19-8 (97-65, won World Series
1981 Dodgers, 19-8 (63-47, won World Series)
1940 Dodgers, 19-8 (88-65, did not make postseason)

Ask Ross Porter

Former Dodgers broadcaster Ross Porter is back for another season of “Ask Ross Porter.” We have a new email address this season for it. Ross will have access to this email address and will get your questions without me having to forward them. So, if you have a message (like thanking him for his years as a broadcaster) and not a question, feel free to let him know. Send your question or comment to rossporterdodgers@gmail.com.

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Sandra Martindale of Palm Desert asks: I’m very impressed with Mookie Betts as a hitter because he does not let good pitches go by. Do you agree, Ross?

Ross: That’s a very valid, astute observation and you are to be complimented. Sarah Langs of MLB.com provided us with what I think are amazing numbers. At the beginning of this week, Mookie had swung at 101 pitches in the strike zone this season and missed on just ONE of those swings. That was an 83-MPH splitter thrown by Kevin Gausman of the Giants in the second game this year. Of course, that is the best percentage in baseball this season. Betts has been at least 89% each season, 92% a year ago, and a high of 94.8% in 2016.

Chuck Brauer of Dana Point asks: With so many pitchers today throwing 95+-mph, how does that compare with the past greats?

Ross: Your question, Chuck, results in numerous discussions, rumors, and misinformation so it is a risky subject. Let me mention some facts first. Radar was first used to measure the speed of a moving object in 1935 and radar guns were first developed in 1954. The radar gun was introduced to baseball by former major-league outfielder Danny Litwhiler, the baseball coach at Michigan State. He had played for four National League teams, and in 1942 became the first major leaguer to have an error-free season and the first player to stitch together the fingers of his glove. Former Dodgers Steve Garvey and Kirk Gibson played for Litwhiler’s Spartans. The coach bought an old gun from campus police and sent it to JUGS sports in 1973 to be adapted for use in baseball. It was 1975 when the radar gun was shown at spring training and a few years before the gun became standard equipment. Sandy Koufax retired in 1966 so no one ever put a radar gun on him, yet it has been reported his highest speed was 93.2 MPH. There have been rumors of 100 mph or more fastballs for quite a few pitchers, including Walter Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Bob Feller and Steve Dalkowski. Because there was no technology available to verify it, the best official record was set Sept. 24, 2010 when Aroldis Chapman of the Reds fired a pitch that was clocked at 105.1 miles per hour. Today, the average fastball in the major leagues for a starting pitcher is 92 and 93 for a reliever. Two ex-Dodger pitchers, Don Sutton and Bob Welch, both told me location was more important than velocity.

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Charlette Jablonsky of Walnut asks: How many Dodger fan cutouts are there at the stadium?

Ross: As of July 24, they had sold 6,200, and brought in $1 million for the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation. They cost anywhere from $149 to $299, depending on the location. The Dugout Club and new Pavilion Home Run seats are sold out as well as on camera angle seats. On the Field and Loge levels you can also buy cutouts of your dog or cat for $149. Vin Scully was asked if he would like to buy a cutout, and he politely declined, saying, “I never sat in the stands.”

Gary Claudius of Eastvale, Calif. asks: With the infield shifts so frequent against Dodger left-handed batters, why are they not bunting up the third-base line for an almost guaranteed infield single? It seems bunting is a lost art today. Thanks, Ross. I love your column.

Ross: We have never met, Gary, or I would say you are a successful mind reader. This is a question that I have asked countless times. There was a game last year with a shift on that left-handed hitting Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals laid down a hard bunt that rolled into left field, and he turned it into a stand-up double. Two reasons for the failure to bunt: Why settle for a cheap single when you might get an extra base hit with a full swing, and there are not many good bunters.

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Ed Arvizo of Albuquerque asks: When batters get their first major-league hit or home run they ask for the ball. When Mookie got his first hit as a Dodger, he asked for the ball. How about pitchers?

Ross: That’s a good point, Ed. If a pitcher turns in a no-hitter or achieves another personal milestone, and his catcher has been made aware of it, he will make sure his teammates saves the ball after the final out. The only time I remember a pitcher keeping the ball was in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series. The Giants had a 5-0 lead over the Angels in the seventh inning and when Dusty Baker replaced Russ Ortiz, he let him keep the ball thinking San Francisco was a few outs away from winning the world championship. The Angels rallied to win, 6-5, and captured Game 7 the next night.

Doug Reynolds of Sacramento asks: Hello, Ross, how many players ever hit a walkoff triple?

Ross: Going into this season there had been 148 games end with a walkoff triple since 1950. Source: baseball-reference.com

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Up next

Friday: Colorado (Jon Gray) at Dodgers (Walker Buehler), 6:30 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570

Saturday: Colorado (Kyle Freeland*) at Dodgers (Dustin May), 6 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570

Sunday: Colorado (Antonio Senzatela) at Dodgers (Ross Stripling), 1 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570

*-Left-handed

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And finally

Ron Cey, Dodgers host military heroes for Veterans Day event at Dodger Stadium. Watch it here.

Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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