Mookie Betts has been on an MVP-caliber tear for Dodgers

The peaks of Mookie Betts are so high that even relatively productive stretches can seem tranquil at the plate.

There, the all-star right fielder entered the Dodgers’ weekend series in Miami. He had been playing well upon his return from a foot injury earlier in the year, with a .283 batting average and an .859 percentage on base plus slugging since early July. But it wasn’t burning either, not quite.

That has changed in the last three games against the Marlins.

On Friday, Betts hit a homer twice and then hit a game-winning double in the 10th inning. On Saturday he went deep again for his 30th home run of the season.

And on Sunday, Betts put his stamp on the afternoon in an 8-1 win at LoanDepot Park.

The former MVP homed in his first at-bat and sent the game’s third pitch off the top of the midfield wall and out of the park for his 36th career leadoff blast, tying Shin-Soo Choo in 11th place in the MLB History.

Betts then helped the Dodgers retire in the sixth inning and underscored a three-run rally with an RBI single to the left.

In his final at-bat, he pulled a double down in eighth and finished the day with a .281 batting average and .910 OPS — placing fifth in the National League.

“He just swings the bat so well,” said manager Dave Roberts. “When he’s like that, he stays in the hitting zone and it seems like every shot he takes is a center cut.”

In a typically dovish post-game demeanor, Betts brushed aside the potential that this weekend could be the start of another red-hot tear — similar to a six-week stretch in late April and May in which he hit .348 and hit 16 homers in 40 games.

“It’s been a good couple of days or whatever,” he said after improving to eight of 15 in the series with four homers and seven RBIs. “Just one day at a time. Just be where my feet are. Tomorrow will be tomorrow.”

Manager Dave Roberts gives Mookie Betts a high five.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts celebrates with Mookie Betts in the Dodgers’ 8-1 win over the Miami Marlins on Sunday.

(Marta Lavandier / Associated Press)

His manager wasn’t so reticent, almost sounding contradictory when he told reporters after the game that he would be giving Betts a day off on Monday after playing on a grass outfield for three straight days.

“The challenge for me is to recognize that [he’s getting hot], but to resist the urge to put him out there every day,” Roberts said. “So it’s my decision to give him a day tomorrow – to keep that flame going.”

The spark for this latest outburst, according to Betts, was his changed approach at the top of the lineup.

After starting the season with too many passive hits, Betts believes he’s thrived on a more aggressive attacking plan of late – one he said was encouraged by teammates Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner.

“I think having Trea and Freddie here has definitely changed the way I look at batting,” Betts said. “[Them] and the hitting coaches, they really are my backbone and who I’m talking to… I was just watching them. They basically showed me the way.”

Betts made customization easy.

Where he used to be intent on working long bats and increasing the pitch count, he’s now more willing to attack early in counts on pitches in the zone.

“It’s not like pitchers go into games much anymore anyway,” Betts said. “So just be ready to strike. It’s hard enough as it is.”

The numbers back it up, too: Betts is swinging on first pitches at the highest rate since his rookie season and is also seeing fewer pitches per plate appearances than last year.

“I just like the aggressiveness,” Roberts said. “He’s always going to be looking over baseball, doing his walks, counting, but from first place there’s a clear intention and there’s not a passivity like there was at times last year.”

Sunday offered another prime example.

In his first shot, Betts took a borderline first-shot fastball and then put down a sinker off the plate.

But when Marlins rookie starter Edward Cabrera — who had a 1.41 ERA coming into the game before giving up six runs in 5⅔ innings — made a switch over the plate in the next spot, Betts hammered it and gave the Dodgers early life in a game that started at 9 p.m. Pacific time.

“I think that woke us up a bit,” Betts said.

From then on, the Dodgers (88-38) never trailed.

Justin Turner kicked off a three-hit day later on day one with an RBI single. Trayce Thompson collected his seventh home run high off the foul pole in the second. Julio Urías gave up just one run in six innings.

And after a two-run single from Austin Barnes in the sixth, Betts went to the first pitch to ride in another – again connecting his renewed approach and red-hot at-bat.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2022-08-28/dodgers-miami-marlins-recap-mookie-betts-julio-urias Mookie Betts has been on an MVP-caliber tear for Dodgers

Emma Bowman

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