It started out as a temporary measure, a short-term fix for the Dodgers’ growing infield injury list.
After all, for all of Mookie Betts’ natural ability, the Dodgers had never really thought of a world where he could play shortstop on a regular basis.
His excellent defense in right field seemed too valuable. And as he himself has pointed out on numerous occasions, the team isn’t paying him $365 million to be an infielder.
However, after making his major league debut on Thursday night and returning for another inning on Friday, it could suddenly make a lot of sense to continue experimenting with Betts at shortstop.
“Mookie’s ability and willingness to play second or smaller,” said manager Dave Roberts, “I can imagine that happening more often.”
Betts was already on occasion at second base this season, due to the cruciate ligament tear that ended Gavin Lux’s year and significantly eroded the Dodgers’ infield depth.
However, shortstop was initially seen as just another beast.
Yes, Betts grew up at that position, drafted as a shortstop by the Boston Red Sox in 2011. And even after his early move to outfield, he does infield drills almost every day before the game.
“He has the skills,” said third base coach and infield coach Dino Ebel. “He has the tools.”
Even so, Betts had never played shortstop in a big league game. Before Thursday, his last professional appearance there was in the developing Arizona Fall League in 2013.
His reputation as a right fielder – which admittedly isn’t Bett’s favorite position but the one he thrived on as a six-time Gold Glover – kept him there.
And while the Dodgers recognized his potential in midfield, they never really pursued it as a real possibility.
“I think that’s a long way to go,” Roberts said this spring when asked if Betts could pick up an infield position. “We have so much depth on the infield side, I don’t see that this year.
But then Lux tore his ACL in March. His replacement, Miguel Rojas, was injured last week with a pulled muscle.
At the same time, Chris Taylor has tweaked a slash that has kept him confined to banking duties for the past few days.
Suddenly looking for other answers, the Dodgers called Luke Williams and gave Yonny Hernández a cup of coffee when Betts was put on the paternity list for a couple of games this week.
But when Betts returned Thursday night – after a mad rush from the airport to get to Wrigley Field in time to be activated – Roberts and company were finally ready to pull the trigger and fulfill what Betts described as a career dream .
“I just said to Doc, ‘I just want to win. i play everywhere I do everything,” said Betts, who came on as a pinch hitter for Williams in the sixth inning, played shortstop for the last three innings and turned an impressive double in the eighth inning with the only ball hit.
“I grew up with it,” Betts added. “So nothing new.”
From the dugout, Ebel immediately noticed Bett’s level of comfort at doubles play as he snared a one-hopper, ran himself for second and jumped over a slipping Cody Bellinger to make a throw to first base.
“Instincts took over,” said Ebel. “He reacted as if he had played there for 12 years.”
Freeman was blown away, too, though hardly surprised.
“I think he could be a Gold Glover in any position,” Freeman said. “I don’t know many other people who could be considered the top five players in all of baseball and cover multiple positions and make it look easy.”
Where the process will go next is unclear.
Betts could start at shortstop on Saturday, Roberts said, and will remain her primary support until Rojas and Taylor return to full strength.
Maybe that’s the end of the road for Bett’s shortstop career.
But perhaps for an organization that values ”optionality” in its roster, there’s a world where Betts remains an important factor in the position.
The case for the latter goes something like this: While Rojas and Taylor have far more playing experience at shortstops than Betts, both struggled mightily at the plate early in the season (Rojas is four for 32; Taylor is five for 40 with four homers) . but also 18 deletions).
If they don’t turn things around, the Dodgers could be looking for a replacement by the close of trading.
While attractive targets should be available, perhaps none larger than the Chicago White Sox’s Tim Anderson, trading for a legitimate starting shortstop is usually no easy matter.
Offensive-minded corner field players, on the other hand, are usually more available after the deadline.
And if the Dodgers feel the need for another impact racquet, pursuing a trade for an outfielder and giving Betts more playing time at the shortstop in exchange could potentially be a viable option.
This possibility is across the board. The Dodgers prefer to get enough production from Rojas or Taylor to keep Betts mostly in the right field.
But giving him shortstop reps now, just in case of the variables that might come into play, certainly wouldn’t hurt.
For a former MVP who has always dreamed of returning to center field, the Dodgers already have his buy-in
“I don’t really care where I play or what I do,” Betts said. “I just want to win”