WASHINGTON -- A three-headed catcher was never really an attractive option for the Los Angeles Dodgers, outside of expanded rosters in September and a couple short stints in June and July, yet all of a sudden, it is a beast the club has deemed useful now that the most important time of the season has arrived.
Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Ruiz and Austin Barnes will all vie for time at one spot during the potential five-game National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals, though Barnes is versatile enough to be used at second base in a pinch and even at third base, if it comes to that.
Why burn a valuable roster spot on Barnes, who might not even play?
For starters, the 25th man on a division series roster is almost a bonus spot. Unlike in the regular season, when the club carried five starting pitchers, the team has only four for the NLDS.
Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda definitely will face the Nationals in the coming days. Julio Urias could too, if the Dodgers ask him to pick up Game 4. Ross Stripling is on the roster, but he is being viewed as more of a swing man, capable of giving multiple innings at a time if needed. The Dodgers had an extra spot and decided to get a bit experimental with it.
It appears the 25th man on the roster came down to Barnes and left-hander Alex Wood, who returned from an elbow issue to deliver four scoreless relief outings in September. If a position player was desired for that final spot, then the final decision appears to have been down to Barnes and Rob Segedin.
With Barnes on the roster, the Dodgers are able to get more value out of the right-handed bat of Ruiz. If Ruiz were merely the second of two catchers on the playoff roster, then using him late in games would not be an option. He would have to sit around and wait as an insurance policy in case Grandal got injured. With the three-catcher look, Barnes figures to be the nightly insurance policy, and that frees up Ruiz to pinch hit against left-handed relievers or be used in a double switch.
“We just felt like, overall, that helped complete our roster, helped fill it out even more,” team president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said.
After all, the Dodgers said upon trading A.J. Ellis in late August that Ruiz gives them a stronger right-handed bat against lefties. There is also the matter of Ruiz’s postseason experience, which includes 46 playoff games, 11 of which have been in the World Series.
At this point, the deal to send Ellis away and bring Ruiz aboard seems like way more drama than it was worth. Ruiz might have more playoff experience, but as Kershaw pointed out not long after the deal went down, Ellis had playoff success too.
But this roster move is about more than justifying a deal among guys who cleared trade waivers. The Dodgers figure to use their left-handed-dominated lineup the most in the upcoming series. In that scenario, only Yasiel Puig and Charlie Culberson would be right-handed-hitting options off the bench. Now add to that group Ruiz, who has the most experience of the three.
Would Ruiz be considered the team’s top pinch-hitting option, at least from the right side?
“It depends on who is starting that day, and obviously, we have some right-handed bats, but you know, I look at Carlos as a backup, as a right-handed bat,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Depending on the situation, depending on the pitcher-hitter matchup, I’ll make that decision.”