It’s hard to believe the difference a few weeks can make on the baseball field.
Over his first 25 plate appearances of the shortened 2020 season, Austin Barnes went a paltry 2-for-22 at the plate, leading many fans of the Dodgers to debate both the short term and long term solutions for the organization at catcher.
We actually had a conversation about the matter on Sunday.
However, during his last 26 PA, the 30-year-old journeyman has gone a very impressive 12-for-24, and his five runs scored have been among the team’s most worthy contributions.
On Tuesday night, Barnes emerged as one of the game’s heroes, leading the Dodgers to a 2-1 victory over the Mariners and stretching the team’s winning streak to a season-high seven games. Los Angeles now stands alone at 18-7 with the best record in the majors.
Barnes ended up scoring both runs in the victory. In the sixth inning, his hustle allowed him to beat out a bunt-like dribbler to the pitcher. After advancing to second on a Corey Seager ground out, Barnes scored with two out on a Justin Turner roller to left field, providing the Dodgers with a 1-0 lead on a night when offense was at a premium for both sides.
With the game tied at one apiece in the eighth inning, Barnes drew a one-out walk and later stole second base, once again exhibiting his valuable skills on the basepaths. Again with two out, Barnes sped home on a Seager single to right field, putting the Dodgers ahead for good.
After the game, Barnes told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that he gives credit to some of his recent success to his teammate, Mookie Betts.
“He’s helped me tremendously,” Barnes said of Betts. “I don’t know if he wants it out there, wants it under the radar, but he’s helped me swinging-wise. He helps me talking about hitting. He’s helped me in the cage, been in there with me in the cage and hit with me and watched me swing. And that shows you what kind of teammate he is, to take time from his day to help someone else.”
With the halfway point of the season near, Barnes is now hitting .304/.347/.391 with six RBI, seemingly elevating him to the top of the organization’s totem pole as far as catchers go.
At the onset of the season, Will Smith was named the starting catcher out of summer camp, but the 25-year-old backstop was placed on the injured list last weekend with neck stiffness. The original thought was to have Barnes catch every fourth day or so, but after considering his recent level of production, skipper Dave Roberts may need to think twice when allotting playing time behind the plate.
If there’s one downfall in Barnsey’s game right now, it’s probably the strength of his throwing arm. Opposing base runners have swiped nine of 10 bags on him this season, but there’s still plenty of time for him and the pitching staff to make some prospective adjustments. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
In the meantime, both the Dodgers and the Mariners head north to resume their series on Wednesday for two games in Seattle.
Wednesday’s first pitch is slated for 6:40 p.m. Los Angeles time.