'This is really hard': Betts gets honest on his shortstop journey

May 21st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Juan Toribio’s Dodgers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

LOS ANGELES -- knew the move to shortstop was going to be the most challenging task of his career. It’s the most demanding position in the sport, and one he hasn’t played on an everyday basis since high school.

But when approached to play shortstop this spring, Betts welcomed the challenge. Over the past 2 1/2 months, there haven’t been many days Betts isn’t seen out on the field four hours before first pitch taking dozens of ground balls.

“This is really hard,” Betts said over the weekend. “It’s really, really hard. It is what it is. Gotta do it. I enjoy doing it, but the main thing is that it’s really, really hard.”

Now that the Dodgers have wrapped up 50 games (33-17 and an eight-game lead in the National League West), Betts can start grading himself. At first, he just wanted to see the process play out and learn along the way. Now, it’s about execution for Betts.

Over the last month, Betts has started to look more like a shortstop. He has made the routine plays, though throwing errors have been a problem at times -- making six errors in 339 1/3 innings. There are other plays, of course, where his inexperience inevitably shows. Against the Giants last week, Betts knows he should’ve tried to knock down a ball in the hole to prevent a run from scoring. On Friday, he had an error and another misplay that extended the inning for James Paxton.

After the game, Betts sat down in the Dodgers’ interview room and was candid about his performance. How exactly would he grade himself at this point in the season?

“I think it’s been not very good,” Betts said. “It’s a work in progress. It’s my first time doing it in a long time. You have to start somewhere. And at least with me feeling like I’m on the lower end, there’s nowhere to go but up from here.”

Betts expects a lot from himself. It’s what has turned him into one of the superstars of the sport over the last decade. His self-evaluation was perhaps more critical than the metrics or the eye test reveal.

There’s also the reality that Betts could get better over time. When he handles a tough hop or a difficult play in the hole, it’s one of the first times he has experienced it. You can go through pregame drills, but the best teacher is experience. And right now, Betts just doesn’t have enough. But the Dodgers are expecting it to get better.

“I don’t expect the workload before games to continue throughout the season,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “He’s trying to continue to build a foundation. He expects a lot of himself.”

Moving forward, the Dodgers could opt to move Betts back to second base. That, however, isn’t in the cards right now. The best Dodgers team is with Betts playing shortstop on an everyday basis. The 2018 American League Most Valuable Player knows that. He’ll continue to be hard on himself. It’s what he did when he made the switch from second base to right field with the Red Sox. In the end, only time will tell just how Betts can handle it all.

“Sometimes it’s good to get hit in the mouth a lot,” Betts said. “Take it on the chin and keep it moving.”