LOS ANGELES — Dodgers catcher Will Smith made his first All-Star Game while playing with a broken rib for much of the season’s first half.
Smith acknowledged to David Vassegh of 570 AM over the weekend that he suffered a fracture when he was hit in the side by a pitch from St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Jake Woodford during the Dodgers’ April 30 game at Dodger Stadium.
“I got hit by a pitch early in the year, kind of right after I came back from that concussion (in mid-April). It was a broken rib and some oblique strain stuff,” Smith said in a radio interview before Saturday’s game in Seattle.
“It feels 100 percent now. Haven’t felt it for a month or two months, really. I was probably still guarding it unknowingly. Probably threw me off a little bit but you go out and try to help us win every night.”
Smith was hitting .300 with a .947 OPS through that April 30 game. He didn’t miss any time as a result, starting the Dodgers’ next six games (one at DH) and hitting .273 with an .874 OPS the rest of the way until the All-Star break.
Since the All-Star break, though, Smith has hit .244 with a .697 OPS and only five of his 18 home runs. Over his last 13 games before Tuesday, Smith was 9 for 49 (.184). Smith has been particularly less proficient against inside fastballs, a pitch he handled very well early in the season.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said the team’s staff thinks the dropoff in Smith’s offensive production could be a result of changes in his swing prompted by the injury.
“He went a little sideways,” Roberts said of Smith’s swing mechanics. “So I think that that led to a lot of missed pitches in the hitting zone.
“There was probably a little bit of guarding initially after, and then when you’re talking about the rib, the oblique, that sort of dovetails into some changed mechanics. … Our player performance guys, now you got more than just video. You can kind of take a deeper dive into how, when he was good pre-hit by pitch and kind of how it morphed into something a little bit different.”
Left-hander Caleb Ferguson made his fifth start of the season Tuesday night, the most frequent of the Dodgers’ relievers used as an ‘opener.’ He struck out the side against the Detroit Tigers but gave up a home run to Spencer Torkelson and has now allowed two runs on eight hits and a walk in his five innings as an opener.
Ferguson and right-hander Brusdar Graterol “would be at the top of the list” to be used as ‘openers’ in a playoff game, Roberts said, with Shelby Miller (a full-time starter for the first four seasons of his major-league career) also an option.
Ferguson’s neutral splits make him a good candidate to open, Roberts said. Going into Tuesday’s start, right-handers were batting .261 against Ferguson and lefties were at .250. Graterol has similar balance – lefties have hit .222 against him, righties .244.
“Yeah, I think it’s the neutrality,” Roberts said of the most important factor. “I think it’s also appreciating the fact that you’re going to face the first three or four top hitters of the lineup, that you feel comfortable that you can get through that first inning to give some runway to that next guy.”
A handful of Dodgers took live batting practice against a pair of minor-league left-handers. James Outman, Amed Rosario, Kiké Hernandez, Kolten Wong and Smith participated in the early work.
Veteran reliever Daniel Hudson took the mound for one simulated inning, facing hitters in another attempt to return from a knee injury suffered in July.
“For us right now, just to get him through that, and hopefully, I hear back that he came out of it well,” Roberts said. “But it was just encouraging to see him get some hitters and I think we’ll revisit this in another four or five days.”
The 36-year-old Hudson remains a very long shot to pitch again this year. Roberts acknowledged as much.
“I think so,” Roberts said. “Our expectation is to play through October so if we can continue to build him up … it’s a long shot. So I think the most important thing is to continue to pass the certain markers.”
Tigers (RHP Reese Olson, 4-7, 4.30 ERA) at Dodgers (RHP Bobby Miller, 10-3, 4.02 ERA), Wednesday, 7:10 p.m. SportsNet LA, 570 AM