September 22, 2023

Mookie Betts starts in the infield and crushes two home runs as Miguel Vargas struggles

Dodger Mookie Betts runs and celebrates his home run as Angels pitcher Griffin Canning and catcher Matt Thaiss look away
Dodgers second baseman Mookie Betts celebrates his third inning at home as Angels starting pitcher Griffin Canning and catcher Matt Thaiss look away at Dodger Stadium Friday. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Mookie Betts made his fourth consecutive start in the infield Friday night, a move that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said had more to do with second baseman Miguel Vargas’ months-long slump than with Betts’ tendency to turbocharge his bat when he was “in the mud’ plays. .”

But it becomes impossible to ignore the correlation between Betts’ infield starts and his increased production, especially after the first man hit a pair of solo home runs and a two-run double to propel the Dodgers to an 11-4 victory over the Angels. lead in to a sold-out crowd of 52,214 at Dodger Stadium.

Tony Gonsolin gave up four runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings and struckout five to improve to 5-3 with a 3.86 ERA, teaming with Julio Urías (six innings, two runs, three hits Thursday) to the Dodgers consecutive starts of six innings or more for the first time since June 13-14, when Gonsolin and Clayton Kershaw did it.

Freddie Freeman hit a solo homer in the first inning, JD Martinez hit a solo shot in the second and an RBI double in the third, and Will Smith ended a four-run eighth inning with a two-run homer, while the Dodgers (50-38) won for the fourth time in five games and extended their win streak over the Angels to nine games in 2021.

Dodgers designated hitter JD Martinez watches his home run go up as Angels pitcher Griffin Canning looks on

Dodgers designated hitter JD Martinez watches his home run skyrocket in the second inning as Angels starting pitcher Griffin Canning watches Friday at Dodger Stadium. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Angels (45-45) lost for the eighth time in nine games, dropping to .500 for the first time since June 3, when they were 30-30.

Betts hit his first homer off Angels starter Griffin Canning in the third inning and his second off reliever Tyler Anderson in the fifth to give him a team-leading 25 home runs this season and a career-high 27 multihomer games.

The Angels, who were out 23 consecutive innings this season against the Dodgers, finally broke through with a fourth three-run run off Gonsolin, who came through the first three innings like a breeze, needing only 25 pitches to defeat all nine batters. to turn off.

But Betts lined out the top of the short left field wall and teed into the bullpen to make it 5-3 in the fifth, followed by a 2-out single by James Outman and a walk to Miguel Rojas with a two-run double to the left to make it 7-3 in the sixth.

Betts will start Tuesday night’s All-Star Game in the outfield, but he now has a .331 average (39 for 118) and 1,072 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 31 games at second base and shortstop and a . 243 average (51 for 210) and .864 OPS in 53 games in right field.

Read more: Hernández: Julio Urías is the asset the Dodgers desperately need. He just has to play like that.

“I think we’re starting to see a good trend,” Roberts said. “I know Mookie likes to sit on the sand. It keeps him fresher. It keeps him engaged. It keeps him more dynamic, I think. And that could certainly unlock some things.

Betts, who is hitting .277 this season with a .960 OPS and 61 RBIs, isn’t so sure.

“Um…I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, I won [American League] MVP in [2018] in the right field, so that’s my argument for it. You know, it really doesn’t matter where I play. The [batter’s] box is box, and defense is defense. They are two separate things, and I keep it that way.”

Whether Betts is more energetic in the infield or not, his ability to play at an extremely high level in three different positions gives Roberts plenty of options and flexibility as he fills out his lineup map.

“I think the only comp is [Angels two-way star Shohei] Ohtani, and what he does is incomparable,” said Roberts. “But if you’re talking about someone doing something unique, at a high level, that’s very rare.

“You can deploy him at shortstop, at second base, and it’s superstar production on the offensive end, so Mookie’s willingness, eagerness to do what we ask of him is pretty incredible.”

Vargas, meanwhile, is batting .082 (five for 61) with a .375 OPS, three extra-base hits and four RBis in 21 games since June 9, a nosedive that has cost him playing time and could warrant a demotion to triple-A.

“I think everything should be on the table, I really do,” said Roberts before the game.

“There’s a piece of winning here, and there’s also a piece of putting his mind where it needs to be, because obviously he’s under pressure at the moment. He’s never struggled like this before.

“Victory wins are always important, and there comes a time when we have to use our best options to win a baseball game. So I think it’s smart to have that opportunity to have Mookie in the sand, to pick matchups for Miguel Vargas.

If the Dodgers demote Vargas, they might remember Michael Busch, who hits .320 with a 1,023 OPS, 10 home runs, and 47 RBIs in 52 games at Oklahoma City. And of course, Betts would play more games in the infield.

“I do believe the defense is getting better, and the experience of being at the top level is helpful,” Roberts said of Vargas. “But it’s also helpful to feel like you’re taking some beating and getting your confidence going.

“I think [he adds to the team], but at what point do you decide it could be harmful? I don’t know the answer at the moment, but having a conversation is in his best interest and is healthy.”

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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