Home Los Angeles News Will Smith likely to be Dodgers’ No. 3 hitter in revamped lineup

Will Smith likely to be Dodgers’ No. 3 hitter in revamped lineup

Will Smith likely to be Dodgers’ No. 3 hitter in revamped lineup

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Will Smith’s high-profile 2023 just kicked into high gear, as the Dodgers catcher left camp this week to join Team USA for its World Baseball Classic run.

A National League All-Star snub in 2022, Smith has been able to temper any disappointment he might have felt by becoming one of three USA catchers along with the Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto and the Yankees’ Kyle Higashioka.

When Smith returns to the Dodgers in advance of the March 30 season opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks, even more responsibility awaits. Manager Dave Roberts all but confirmed Wednesday that Smith is set to open the season as the Dodgers’ No. 3 hitter in the team’s revamped lineup.

“It’s hard to go wrong with him in the three,” Roberts said Wednesday. “A guy that can hit left, hit right, he can drive runs in, values the walk, so it makes sense.”

Smith showed lineup versatility last season, opening the year in the No. 6 spot before moving to the No. 4 hole by the start of May when production in the cleanup spot was lacking. There was even a short stay as a No. 3 hitter last season when an injury to Mookie Betts caused a ripple effect that moved him up a spot.

“Speaking to Will, just a guy that can hit in a lot of different roles and so it just allows for more optionality lineup construction-wise,” said Roberts, who was looking for a new hitter near the top of the order with the departure of Trea Turner. “He gets on base, knows how to drive in a run, he can hit for average, slug when we need that. So anywhere from three, four or five, yeah it makes sense.”

As a No. 4 hitter in 89 games last season, Smith had a .334 on-base percentage and a .762 OPS while driving in 58 runs. In 23 games as a No. 3 hitter, he was able to change his approach and drive the ball more with a .317 OPB, a .927 OPS and 14 RBIs.

Expected to follow Smith in the cleanup spot this season is Max Muncy, creating a right-left-right-left combination of Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Smith and Muncy at the top of the order.

An All-Star in 2021, Muncy struggled for consistency last season while enduring a rocky return from an elbow injury. He hit 21 home runs last season, the first time he did not reach 35 in a full season with the Dodgers. His .196 batting average and .713 OPS were his worst over a season since joining the club.

Roberts is convinced Muncy is ready to find his old form again.

“Now he’s healthy, had a regular offseason, got (his contract) extended and so I think that his mind is slowed down and the body’s working right,” Roberts said. “He’s holding his backside, mechanically, really well. I think he’s really bought into being a good hitter, and not just being a slugger, which I think makes him a better slugger, if that makes sense.”

The logic is sound in the sense that Muncy will take hard-hit line drives over majestic blasts, which could translate into a return as a top run producer again. And there is another aspect that figures to be an assist.

Roberts expects Muncy to be one of the bigger beneficiaries of the elimination of the infield defensive shift.

“I just think that he is in an overall really good place,” Roberts said.


Right-hander Tony Gonsolin’s sprained ankle could keep him from making the Opening Day roster, although the Dodgers continue to say the injury is minor. Gonsolin sprained his left ankle during a workout Monday and an X-ray during the off day came back clean.

But with limited time before Opening Day in just over three weeks, Gonsolin might run out of runway in order to build up his pitch count before his scheduled first turn in the rotation.

“I don’t want to get ahead of it, but it’s not something we feel really good about,” Roberts said when asked if Gonsolin will avoid the injured list. “So we’ll just kind of see how it goes each day and hopefully it progresses faster.”

Michael Grove or Ryan Pepiot could be in line to start an early-season game.


Veteran Jason Heyward appears to be on his way to an Opening Day roster spot, with Roberts saying, “I think it’s a safe bet.” The 33-year-old outfielder, with 13 years of major league experience, was batting .333 with a 1.262 OPS in five Cactus League games, heading into play Wednesday night. … Gavin Lux underwent successful knee surgery in Los Angeles, with no recovery timetable revealed. Team doctor Neal ElAttrache performed the surgery. … Right-handers Daniel Hudson (knee/ankle) and Yency Almonte (elbow) faced hitters for the first time this spring when both pitched on one of the back fields.