After Mookie Betts flew out of the gates to begin his Dodgers career, helping the team to a World Series title in 2020 while finishing second in most-valuable-player voting, last year was a series of stop and starts for the star outfielder.
After beginning slowly at the plate, Betts was sidelined by a bone spur in his right hip. He missed 11 games in July, 16 in August and occasionally played at second base to help manage the nagging discomfort.
“It was pretty frustrating,” Betts said.
Betts hopes it’s behind him. On Tuesday, the 29-year-old sounded upbeat, saying he hasn’t had any discomfort since the end of last season and reported to spring training over the weekend “ready to go.”
“Things have been smooth,” Betts added, noting that he didn’t need any MRIs or other examinations before camp. “It’s been pretty normal. So no need.”
The Dodgers will be hoping it translates to a bounce-back season for Betts, who still was one of their best hitters last year but fell short of his elite production.
In 122 games he batted .264 (matching a career low), had 23 home runs and 58 RBIs (the second-lowest and lowest totals he’s had in a full season, respectively) and didn’t receive any MVP votes (the first time that has happened since he debuted in 2014).
He was still an All-Star, for the fifth time, and batted .319 in the postseason. But the hip was clearly a limitation — making the recovery not only a physical relief, but a mental one too.
“The No. 1 thing is to be on the field to help the team,” Betts said. “If you’re not healthy and on the field to help, then there’s kind of no point to your being here. I’m just happy to be able to play.”
So far in camp, manager Dave Roberts has seen only positive signs from Betts, who is entering the second season of the 12-year, $365-million contract extension he signed after being traded from Boston in 2020.
While Roberts cautioned it might be “kind of a slow ramp-up” with Betts, the outfielder has been a full participant over the first two days, taking a batting practice at-bat against Clayton Kershaw on Monday before drawing a walk and playing right field during a simulated game Tuesday afternoon.
“He looks normal,” Roberts said. “I haven’t seen him certainly push himself yet. But I’m just kind of going by the training staff and his word where he just feels normal. As we kind of get more into baseball activity, I think we’ll know more. But right now, compared to where he was at times last year, where he just was injured and didn’t feel well … he’s far from that.”
Roberts added, in what has been one of the team’s most encouraging developments: “I think that you’ll see Mookie … allowing himself to be the player that we’ve known for many years.”
Jimmy Nelson is back in camp, the right-handed pitcher in the process of finalizing a one-year deal expected to include a club option for 2023, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. Nelson underwent Tommy John surgery last August. … According to a report by the Athletic, Major League Baseball will require managers and coaches to be “up to date” with COVID-19 vaccines. Roberts said he didn’t anticipate that being an issue for the Dodgers staff. … Reliever Blake Treinen was absent Tuesday because of a family situation but is expected back Wednesday.