Whether Yasmani Grandal or Will Smith, the Los Angeles Dodgers found themselves relying on backup catcher Austin Barnes over the past few years once the postseason arrived. As the team prepares to defend their title, manager Dave Roberts views both backstops equally.
“Honestly, I guess if you look at timeshare, I guess he’s a backup. But I don’t see it as such. I think it’s 1 and 1A,” Roberts said. They’re both very valuable and I think we’ve done a good job of using both of them and exploiting strengths to help us win baseball games, whether it be in the regular season or postseason.”
The Dodgers were in position to have Barnes and Smith in the lineup at the same time last season due to the universal designated hitter being implemented. That was key during the playoffs when Roberts seemingly preferred to have Barnes behind the plate but didn’t lose Smith’s bat.
Barnes has started 15 of 18 games the Dodgers have played during their three most recent trips to the World Series. His single off Blake Snell turned the tide against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6, helping the Dodgers win their first title since 1988.
“I want to be in those games. I want to be in the important games. I feel good that they trust me in the most important games of the year,” Barnes said. “I think it goes back to preparation. I’m ready in those games, I feel good in those, I feel confident and I feel like I work with the pitchers well in those games. I feel I can calm some of the younger guys down.
“I’ve been there a little bit, won some of those big games and lost some. There’s a lot to learn from both of those. Those games are fun and intense. I know this organization is about winning, so any time I can get in there I’m happy with it.”
Although the presumption has been Barnes will again back up Smith, Roberts doesn’t want him to view the catching situation as such. “I just don’t want Austin to kind of come into this season as the backup, because clearly in the postseason we leaned on him,” he said.
“We’ll see how that plays out. It’s kind of the same message where competition is a good thing, continue to get better at your craft and we’ll see where that takes us.”
Last season, Barnes appeared in 29 games, making 27 starts.
Barnes focused on settling in
Having caught several bullpen sessions through the first week of Spring Training, Barnes is beginning to find his rhythm behind the plate and is focused on doing so with the bat.
“As a catcher, Spring Training is for getting back in the groove of things with pitchers. It’s very important to take your bullpens serious, talk to guys, see what they like to do and how they’re feeling,” he said.
“Personally, I feel good catching. Just want to get dialed in with my swing, stay on top of it and continue to feel good in both aspects of the ball.”
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