No surprise that Mookie Betts, who turned professional bowler after mastering Major League outfielder, would ask to play, say, second base. The surprise is that the Dodgers are letting him.
Maybe it was a side agreement during negotiations for his $365 million extension, but Betts started at second base in Thursday night's 5-2 loss to the D-backs, temporarily replacing rookie Gavin Lux, a couple weeks after Betts discussed the experiment with manager Dave Roberts. Betts was a middle infielder his first 3 1/2 seasons in Boston's Minor League system and last played one game there for the Red Sox in 2018. It was his 15th MLB start there, but his first since '14.
“He was drafted as a second baseman, he takes grounders every day in the infield and he came to me a couple weeks ago and we were talking about potential scenarios and how we move players around the diamond and if there ever was an opportunity in the postseason, when things sort of get crazy, he might find himself in the infield,” said Roberts.
“For me, nothing is off the table, especially when a player like Mookie is open to it. So, I just felt this was a good opportunity to log some innings, get the feel of it and see what he thinks. Right now, just gathering information. He wants to do it, he’s excited about it. There’s not a whole lot of downside. It’s going to be fun."
Betts passed his first test as a Los Angeles second baseman, and he was busy. Unable to turn any of the first three grounders that he reached into outs (all ruled singles), he converted the next two. He also went 0-for-3 with two walks.
"I thought he played a clean game defensively," Roberts said. "Every play that he needed to make or should make, he did. There was a ball to his left he didn't have a chance on, and I thought he was very smart to hold it. There was another ball up the middle, a hit either way, a shift-buster ball. It was a very clean game at second base and good to see."
Roberts said he would probably give Betts one more start at second base before the postseason, as well as move him from right field to second base in-game once. Roberts also conceded he probably wouldn’t be doing this if the Dodgers were in a scramble for a postseason spot, but he defended it because of the “optionality” it presents going forward.
“I feel really good about it,” Roberts said. “You sometimes hit for guys early and a game could be in the balance in the third or fourth inning. As you’re playing teams nowadays, we saw with the Brewers a couple years ago, starting to deploy bullpens and you just never know what can happen to potentially scratch a couple of runs across early that might prove beneficial later. You just never know how it can play out and this gives me more options.”
The Dodgers began the season with Kiké Hernández and Chris Taylor sharing second base. Top prospect Gavin Lux was recalled two weeks ago, but he’s batting .189 and his throws have been erratic.
• Third baseman Justin Turner (left hamstring) will not return this weekend, Roberts said, with the target now early next week.
• Left-hander Julio Urías was named to start Saturday against the Astros, but Sunday’s starter is still undecided with Walker Buehler going on the 10-day injured list due to a right finger blister. Tony Gonsolin is temporarily in the bullpen.