Mookie Betts started Friday night in the Dodgers’ infield for the fourth straight year, but not because he came into the game second with a .316 average (36 for 114) and a 1.042 on-base plus slugging percentage in 30 games against the Angels went base and shortstop and averaged .243 (51 for 210) and .864 OPS in 53 right field games.
That’s because rookie second baseman Miguel Vargas endured a month-long nosedive at the plate that not only cost him game time, but could also warrant a relegation to Oklahoma City’s triple-A class, where Vargas is at it working to regain the bat and confidence made him the organization’s top straight hitting contender earlier this season.
“I think everything should be on the table, I really do,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before the game at Chavez Ravine. “This is about winning and it’s also about putting his mind where it needs to be because he’s clearly pushing at the moment. He’s never had problems like this before.
“So when it comes to that… it’s always healthy to have that conversation with young players who are struggling. It would be beneficial for him, both in the short term and in the long term, but for now he’s here and will play [Saturday night].”
Vargas used his gap-to-gap power to hit .313 with an OPS of .878, 49 home runs and 265 RBIs in 410 minor league games, and the Dodgers were confident enough to be his hitter in the big leagues would play that they moved him to second base, a position he only started 27 times in the minor league over the winter.
But Vargas, 23, has only given glimpses of the hitter he was in the minors. He hits .197 with a .670 OPS, seven homers, 15 doubles, four triples and 32 RBIs in 79 games and looked overwhelmed for most of the last month, posting .082 (five for 61) with a .375 OPS struck. three extra base hits and four RBis in 21 games since June 9.
And one of those hits was a poison double lost by Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Jack Suwinski in the early evening twilight in the fifth inning Thursday night.
“Wins are always important, and at some point we have to play our best opportunities to win a baseball game,” Roberts said. “So I think having the ability to have Mookie in the dirt to pick up matches for Miguel Vargas is smart. He grinds. He plays hard, but it just doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s good to sit back, take a break and watch a game.”
If the Dodgers actually demote Vargas, they could bring back left-handed hitting infielder Michael Busch, who hits .320 with 1,023 OPS, 10 homers and 47 RBIs in 52 games in Oklahoma City, and give Switch-hitting infielder Yonny Hernandez some starts at the second base. And of course Betts would play more games in the infield.
“I think defense is getting better and the experience of playing in the major leagues is helpful,” Roberts said of Vargas. “But it also helps to feel like you’re taking a few hits and boost your confidence.
“I think [he adds to the team], but when do you come to the conclusion that it could be harmful? I don’t know the answer right now, but it’s in his best interest and healthy to have a conversation.”
Noah Syndergaard, who has been on the injured list for a month with a blister on his right index finger and an ERA contusion – he came 1-4 in his first 12 starts with a 7.16 ERA after breaking a year-old, 13-US – signed a dollar-expensive contract. Million-dollar deal last winter – thrown to the batsmen in a simulated three-inning game on Friday afternoon.
Roberts called the workout, which saw Syndergaard hitting 93-94 mph with his fastball, “a step in the right direction,” and said the 30-year-old right-hander would begin what is expected to be a lengthy rehabilitation period at Oklahoma City in the next week or so .
“How long [the rehab stint] “If someone is to last,” Roberts said, “it depends on health and performance.”
Though the bubble sent Syndergaard to the IL, the former All-Star was in dire need of a mental and physical reset after struggling to find speed on a fastball that once hit triple digits and struggling to find enough effective secondary throws to to stay competitive.
What will Syndergaard need to show the Dodgers, who this season saw all five pitchers from their rotation visit the IL on Game Day 1, to prove he can help them down the stretch?
“I don’t know,” Roberts said. “It’s difficult because there were times when the speed increased but the quality of the counter contact wasn’t good. And there were other times when the speed wasn’t there and the secondary pitches were noticeably better.
“I think health will come first and then we have to make a decision [on whether] The stuff plays at major league level by the standards he has set for himself and we have for him.”