PHILADELPHIA — Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal belted his 20th home run of the season in his first at-bat against the Phillies in a on Tuesday, becoming the sixth Dodgers hitter with 20 or more homers this season — a new club record — joining Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig, Corey Seager, Chris Taylor and Justin Turner. The previous mark was five by the 2000 and 1979 clubs.
An All-Star in his first season with the Dodgers and the unquestioned starting catcher in his second year, Grandal, now in his third season with the club, is battling a slump that jeopardizes his playing time in the postseason. Grandal logged a .267 average and .788 OPS in the first half of this season, but only .205/.698 since the All-Star break.
As Austin Barnes has raised his game to earn more playing time behind the plate, manager Dave Roberts continues to start Grandal, as he did on Tuesday, looking for the offensive production that has tailed off dramatically.
Before the game, Roberts said “it’s imperative” that Grandal “stays in the strike zone.” Roberts said Tuesday night’s game was a good example of that.
“Yasmani has done a much better job the last couple of games of staying in the strike zone,” Roberts said. “When he does that, he got a walk, and then with his ability to slug balls in the strike zone, he can really benefit us.”
Grandal has a career-high 122 strikeouts and, as Roberts implied, the catcher has disagreed with numerous strike calls from umpires. The irony is that one of Grandal’s most celebrated skills is pitch-framing, which essentially is to get umpires to call strikes on pitches that are actually balls.
In almost an identical number of plate appearances as last year, Grandal, with his homer on Tuesday, has 20 home runs and 52 RBIs, down seven and 20, respectively, from last year’s career highs.
Granderson getting big hits
Meanwhile, Roberts also continues to start outfielder Curtis Granderson, who responded on Monday night with a solo home run in the ninth inning and had an RBI double in Tuesday’s loss. Granderson entered Tuesday hitting .120 with a .578 OPS since being acquired in a trade with the Mets last month, although he’s slugged five homers in 27 games.
Roberts acknowledged before Tuesday’s game that Granderson has the ability to turn his slump around.
“Like I’ve said, I like the way he stays in the strike zone, and when he puts bat on ball there will be production,” Roberts said. “I thought his at-bats were good tonight.”
“We’ve got to get him going,” Roberts said. “The homer last night obviously was good. The contact is more consistent, albeit some of these balls are foul. I still think he has the ability to swing at balls in the strike zone. They’re throwing a lot of soft stuff, but I do believe it will turn. He’s a very streaky guy, always has been.”
Maeda, Ryu to work in ‘pen
Roberts also said Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu will pitch out of the bullpen “in the coming days,” as they figure to get squeezed out of a postseason rotation expected to consist of Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Rich Hill and Alex Wood. Maeda is scheduled to start on Thursday.
Because of Ryu’s arm problems the past two seasons, Maeda is more likely able to warm up quicker, as is needed for a reliever.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for our site since 2001.