SAN DIEGO -- It was only a matter of time before Mookie Betts made his presence felt at the plate.
Despite his early offensive struggles, the Dodgers remained confident Betts would break out in a big way. Amid those struggles, Betts admitted that he was frustrated with his performance. His teammates, however, kept the former MVP fully engaged. They knew things would turn.
Manager Dave Roberts shared the sentiment, continuing to stick with Betts as the team’s leadoff hitter. Betts proved everyone right in emphatic fashion, launching his first two homers of the season in the Dodgers’ 6-1 win over the Padres on Friday night at Petco Park.
It is Betts’ 20th career multihomer game. He has 10 career homers against the Padres, all of them coming in a Dodgers uniform.
“You have to take ownership for sucking,” a candid Betts said. “It is what it is, though. I’m working. My teammates have done amazing in keeping us winning, and I just want to do my part to help us win.”
Betts sure did his part on Friday. He got the Dodgers’ offense started with a leadoff homer in the fifth inning off Padres starter Nick Martinez. Betts unloaded on a 2-1 cutter, sending it to the second deck in left field. It had an exit velocity of 104.8 mph and traveled 420 feet, according to Statcast. The homer came on Betts’ 47th at-bat of the season, the longest the star outfielder has had to wait to enjoy his first trot around the bases.
That swing was a welcome sight for Betts, who said he struggled mentally through his early season slump. The hope now is that it will jump-start Betts into playing like one of the best players in the Majors.
“He’s going to sleep much better tonight,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “He’s been grinding, so to get on base four times, hit a couple homers, hit a couple barrels. It was good, and there was a big celebration after the game in his honor. So the guys were really fired up.”
After hitting his first homer, Betts let out a noticeable sigh of relief. He embraced assistant hitting coach Aaron Bates. He couldn’t stop smiling as nearly every single one of his teammates stopped by to congratulate him.
Prior to that at-bat, it had been a real struggle for Betts. He came into Friday’s game with a .178 batting average, the second-lowest among the team’s regulars behind only Max Muncy, who came in with a .128 clip. Muncy also homered on Friday.
Betts’ under-the-hood numbers didn’t look much better, either. He ranked in the 22nd percentile in hard-hit rate, and his average exit velocity is down three mph from last season. According to Statcast, the fifth-inning blast was the first ball Betts hit off the barrel this season.
“That was just like the sigh of relief just to know I can do it because I haven’t really pulled a ball in the air in general [this season],” Betts said. “So just to see one go felt good. It built a little confidence.”
In the ninth inning, Betts used that confidence and wasted no time in hitting his second homer. Betts launched Craig Stammen’s 90 mph sinker to the left-field bleachers. The 370-foot drive had an exit velocity of 100.7 mph.
“We were so happy. Just seeing him be himself.” said Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías, who allowed one run over five innings. “When you see him doing things like he did today, it almost surprises you. But at the same time, you know that it’s normal for him. Let’s hope he continues that because we’re going to need him.”
Aside from the homers, Betts also drew two walks, showing his expected plate discipline. At times this season, Betts has been indecisive at the plate, leading to 12 strikeouts. But the last few games have been encouraging for the Dodgers.
After two weeks of frustration, Betts was back to being himself on Friday. He was smiling, playing stellar defense and feeling healthy in the box. It was only a matter of time.
“When you’re a guy like that, you have high standards and expectations,” Roberts said. “And when you’re not meeting them, you get frustrated. I know that everyone’s excited for him tonight.”