ST. LOUIS -- Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly wasn't in the middle of the action at last December's winter meetings, the ones the Dodgers took over for a stretch of 36 hours, because he was back home in Indiana helping his wife take care of their newborn baby.
Yasmani Grandal had missed much of the season recovering from knee surgery, but by the time he got his legs under him, Mattingly -- ever the keen observer of hitting -- saw some serious potential.
"At the end of the year, we couldn't get him out," Mattingly said. "I knew his swing was good and he was getting to the point that he was dangerous."
While Kemp is hitting home runs at the pace of one every 201 at-bats, Grandal has continued his recovery at the plate. He mashed the biggest road hit for the Dodgers in weeks, a three-run home run in the team's 5-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals Saturday night.
But he also appears to be benefiting from his exposure to a Dodgers organization that has for generations prided itself on producing catchers with a good understanding of how to work with pitchers. That was anything but Grandal's reputation in San Diego, where some of the Padres best pitchers preferred to work with the other catcher.
Grandal helped rookie right-hander Carlos Frias bounce back from a nightmare game last weekend at Dodger Stadium, one in which he only lasted four innings because the Dodgers really, really needed him to keep their bullpen from going seven or eight innings. Frias allowed 10 runs on 12 hits that day, joining a fairly exclusive club of pitchers to have been hit that hard that early. Frias was already in that club, oddly, because of one awful afternoon at Coors Field late last season.
After he held the Cardinals to one unearned run on five hits over seven innings Saturday night -- an awfully solid bounce-back -- he credited Grandal for coming up with the game plan and leaving him free to concentrate on the execution of his pitches. Grandal simplified, asking Frias to rely primarily on his mid- to upper-90s fastball in the early going. Grandal thought Frias tried to do too much in his previous outing.
"He wanted to use all four of his pitches from the beginning for some reason and I thought we could go with one or two pitches for the first three or four innings and all of a sudden mix in those other two," Grandal said.
Frias talked about his trust with Grandal, saying he never shook him off Saturday. He was perfectly happy to cede the game plan to his catcher.
"If he's thinking, he's probably not doing his job right," Grandal said.
The Dodgers haven't gotten this kind of offensive production from a catcher since Russell Martin left. By the time Grandal's career is done, Mike Piazza might be a more apt comparison, who knows? Grandal is batting .400 in May with an 1.152 OPS. He managed to continue his barrage despite a seven-day layoff after being mildly concussed when he was hit in the side of the head by a bat. He came back from that and had the only big hit the Dodgers have ever managed off Michael Wacha, including in some of their most painful postseason failures. That's not a bad thing for them.
"My first two at-bats, I wasn't getting my hands to the right spots and I was missing, swinging under pitches," Grandal said. "I was just trying to get my timing back and I think the only mistake he made all night, I was able to capitalize on."