Shohei excels at leadoff as Dodgers 'hold it down' for Mookie

June 18th, 2024

DENVER -- Life without Mookie Betts, who will miss the next six to eight weeks with a left hand fracture, won’t be easy for the Dodgers. It’s impossible to replace one of the game’s biggest stars.

But collectively, the Dodgers believe they can still produce at a high level until their superstar returns to the lineup.

In their first test since Betts’ injury, the Dodgers showed just that, getting contributions from all over the batting order in a 9-5 win over the Rockies on Monday at Coors Field.

“You’re never gonna replace Mookie Betts. He’s a top-five player in all Major League Baseball,” said Dodgers first baseman . “But you know, we got a lot of good guys in this group. A lot of veteran guys. A lot of us have been on teams that have lost people to injuries. But we got a good group to hold it down. We’ll let him get healthy and welcome him back here sooner rather than later.”

Freeman, of course, was an integral part of the Braves’ team that won the World Series in 2021 despite losing Ronald Acuña Jr. to a season-ending knee injury. Luckily for the Dodgers, Betts’ injury won’t keep him out the rest of the way, and they can take solace in knowing he’ll be back atop their lineup when it matters most.

Freeman said that initially, there was some natural disappointment in learning that Betts and Yoshinobu Yamamoto will both miss extended time with their respective injuries. But on the flip side, everyone in the clubhouse understands they’re going to have to raise their play until their star returns.

“We’ve just got a lot of guys you can surround and create a clubhouse culture like we have, like we’ve done over the last couple years here, that is able to try and keep it going,” Freeman said. “It’s not season-ending. We know he’ll be back. So we just gotta hold it down.”

While the Dodgers were confident coming in that they had enough to withstand Betts’ injury, it was a psychological lift to see it play out on the field right out of the gates.

With Betts out, the Dodgers had to make some changes to their lineup and defensive alignment. took over as the team’s leadoff hitter and shined, going 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles, a walk and a stolen base.

As long as Betts is sidelined, the Dodgers will rely heavily on their other three stars -- Ohtani, and Freeman. Freeman answered the call by matching a franchise record with five walks. also stepped in as the cleanup hitter and opened the scoring with an RBI double in the first inning.

“I just thought tonight was as much fight as I’ve seen,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “With two strikes, your numbers say you’re not going to slug and you’re not really going to hit for average. But you can win pitches. I thought tonight, we just kept winning pitches and we fouled a lot of balls off and we saw a lot of guys in their bullpen.”

On the defensive side, the Dodgers will count on Miguel Rojas, who will handle the majority of the shortstop duties in Betts’ absence. Rojas filled in last year once Gavin Lux was lost for the season and was the everyday shortstop for the Marlins before joining the Dodgers at the beginning of the 2023 season.

Rojas, a natural shortstop, is a defensive upgrade at the position. Not many shortstops around the league have a better glove than Rojas. But this season, Rojas has also had a lot of success -- albeit in limited playing time -- at the plate. On Monday, Rojas gave the Dodgers a boost in the bottom of the lineup, collecting three hits and an RBI. The Dodgers are now 20-0 this season in games in which Rojas collects at least one hit.

“We feel bad for Mookie, for the team and for baseball,” Rojas said. “You could never replace a guy like Mookie. But we have a lot of talent in this group. We have a lot of players that can hold it down until Mookie comes back.”