A few weeks before the All-Star break, Mookie Betts called JD Martinez.
Betts had just decided to compete in this year’s Home Run Derby and wanted some guidance from his Dodgers teammate — not on how to hit home runs at the event, but more on how to help him continue his buoyant season once it’s over .
“If my swing breaks,” Betts said, “will you make it? [help me] Get it back?”
Martinez laughed as he retold the conversation at last week’s All-Star Media Day.
“I thought, ‘Your swing broke before.’ And we were able to get it back,” Martinez replied.
It turned out that such concerns were unfounded.
Since the Dodgers resumed play on Friday, Betts has continued the blistering pace he set for the first half of the season while rediscovering a level of superstar form he had lacked in the past two seasons.
During a trip to New York over the weekend, Betts hit seven hits in 13 at-bat, hit his 27th home run of the season on Saturday and added three RBIs in a series win over the Mets.
After another hit in Monday’s series opener in Baltimore – putting him in 14 of 15 games safely – Betts came into play on Tuesday with an on-base plus slugging percentage of .972, trailing only Ronald Acuña Jr .by the Atlanta Braves . (1,007) in the National League.
Those results prompted manager Dave Roberts to issue a statement on Sunday.
“I think he’s trying to win the MVP,” Roberts said. “Superstar players are motivated by certain things and I think he dragged himself into that conversation. That carrot is out there now.”
Did Betts tell Roberts that was his goal?
“No,” said the manager. “I just know him well enough.”
That prompted Roberts to make another observation that may be just as meaningful for Betts’ game this season.
“I know he’s just fine mentally being in this group,” Roberts said. “Every time I see him I get so excited, although it’s been back and forth for a variety of reasons over the past few years.”
In fact, it all seems connected – Betts’ strong game, his affinity with this year’s squad and his return to producing MVP caliber, a level he hadn’t consistently attained since his first season at the club in 2020.
In 2021, Betts was limited by a hip injury and hit a career-low .264 with just 122 games.
Betts improved last year, but his game remained inconsistent. He had a whirlwind two months in May and August, during which he hit 21 of his career-best 35 home runs. But coming to spring training this year, he lamented the cold tracks that weighed on him all season and aspired to show a more stable presence in 2023.
After hitting .235 by April, Betts did just that. In 63 games since May 1, he has a .305 batting average, 23 home runs and 57 RBIs. During that streak, only the Angels’ two-way star Shohei Ohtani has racked up as many wins over backup as a hitter (both he and Betts have 3.9).
“It’s not necessarily about scoring,” Betts said of his recent game. “It’s more about the quality of the shots, making solid contact and swinging on the right pitches. You cannot control whether or not you receive hits. I feel like I’m doing those three things and maximizing my chances of hitting. I really want to stick to that.”
Has anything changed in Betts’ mechanics or approach to the record?
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “I mean, I’ve been through so many mechanical things and feelings, and I think I’ve finally found a mechanical cue and a feeling that sticks and I can repeat it over and over again, which works.” I think that’s all of that somehow related.”
This apparently also applies to his renewed appearance.
Betts, the Dodgers’ primary right fielder, is pleased to be making a return to infield this year, where he has started 33 of his last 71 games.
He’s enjoyed a reunion with Martinez, who was not only his teammate in Boston (where he helped Betts reinvent his swing during his 2018 MVP season), but also one of his closest friends in the game.
Amid some good-natured banter with Freddie Freeman after last week’s All-Star Game, Betts also noted the similarities within this year’s Dodgers roster, calling it “one of the best teams I’ve ever been a part of.”
For Roberts, this has all resulted in Betts becoming a brighter light in the clubhouse and more willing to banter with teammates, engage with media outlets and enjoy the spotlight on his superstar statue.
“When Mookie is where he is, I think everyone feels it,” Roberts said. “It’s just a good vibe that we have.”
The most recent example came on Monday afternoon.
After an extra-inning loss to the Mets and a late arrival in Baltimore the night before, Roberts arrived at the ballpark in anticipation of a quiet pregame scene.
Instead, “the boys laughed and played together in the training room,” he said. “And Mookie was right in the middle.”