Betts, Freeman spark Dodgers with first-inning homers

June 3rd, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- Looking for a series win to close out their short homestand, and homered in the first inning to propel the Dodgers to a 4-0 victory against the Rockies on Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium.

Both dingers were welcome sights for the Dodgers.

“We needed it,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think Mookie’s been really relieved to hit a ball [out of] the ballpark. Freddie, obviously, has been kind of in it for a while. And so for him to go deep today was really good for him.”

Betts entered the game having not left the yard since May 17, a span of 12 games and 53 at-bats. He also was riding an 0-for-14 skid. That all changed as Betts reached down on a 1-1 slider from Austin Gomber, driving it just fair and just over the low wall down the left-field line, a Statcast-projected 354 feet.

It was the 52nd leadoff homer of Betts’ career, leaving him one away from tying Craig Biggio for No. 4 on the all-time list.

A six-time Gold Glover in right field, Betts is in the midst of his first season as the Dodgers’ full-time shortstop. That has meant a lot more pregame defensive work. After earning National League Player of the Month honors for April, May was a bit of a different story, especially the second half. From May 16-31, Betts batted .250 with a .693 OPS, down from his .348 average and 1.007 OPS to that point.

“Talking to him, talking to our guys, he says he feels strong, feels good,” Roberts said. “I think the [defensive] work is going to be curtailed at some point, but I don't think that it has any correlation [to offensive production], I really don't. I still think that he's really missing some balls, but I don't think it’s a result of the work pregame.”

Two batters after Betts’ homer, Freeman worked a 10-pitch at-bat, ultimately connecting with a four-seamer and sending it out to center field. Brenton Doyle leapt and got his glove on the ball, but he was unable to hang on, giving Freeman his seventh homer of the year and his first off a lefty. He went on to walk three times, pick up another RBI, score another run and steal his second base of the season.

Freeman has admitted to searching for his swing for most of 2024. And while he’s still among MLB’s best hitters this year, his numbers have lagged somewhat behind the lofty standards he has set for himself. But it seems he potentially has turned a corner recently. Over his past 10 games, he’s 11-for-37 with two homers, three doubles and a triple -- and that’s even including two straight 0-for-4 games on Wednesday and Friday.

Throughout his career, Freeman’s splits have not been especially pronounced, and in 2023, he actually fared slightly better against southpaws. This year, however, has been different. He entered Sunday with a 1.002 OPS vs. righties, compared to .600 vs. lefties.

Still, Freeman didn’t make too much of the fact that his homer came off a left-hander.

“It’s more staying through the fastball,” Freeman told SportsNet LA. “It doesn’t matter if it’s right-handed or left-handed. I’ve been flailing a lot balls, giving a lot of souvenirs to the people and flying out to left and rolling over. So to stay through a fastball, it’s what I’ve been looking for for a long time. So, hopefully, it’s a step in the right direction.”

Except for when one has the day off, the top of the Dodgers’ order has been Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freeman for every game this season. And for the most part, that has worked quite well. But lining up with consecutive left-handed hitters in Ohtani and Freeman does sometimes afford opposing teams a slight advantage in going to a left-hander in the later portions of the game. A few teams have even opted to use a left-handed opener ahead of a right-handed bulk pitcher.

For that reason, Roberts has given some thought of trying to put a jolt into the lineup by splitting Ohtani and Freeman up against left-handed pitching. The most likely move would be bumping Will Smith up to the No. 3 spot while dropping Freeman to cleanup.

“Maybe a guy with a lefty that has more [pronounced] splits, I might think about it,” Roberts said. “But if I do, I would certainly have Freddie be a part of that conversation.”