LOS ANGELES ― Just before he left the field Saturday afternoon, Mookie Betts had a long talk with Eddy Alvarez. Betts was done taking ground balls, something he hasn’t done much of in 2022. Alvarez, who’s started more than 500 games on the infield as a professional, made for a good sounding board.
When Betts returns to the Dodgers either Sunday or Monday ― neither he nor manager Dave Roberts were ready to say before Saturday’s game ― he will play second base. Chris Taylor will stay in right field and Gavin Lux will be the primary left fielder until Betts’ cracked rib is more fully healed. At that point, Betts will return to the position at which he has won four Gold Glove awards.
It’s unclear how long that will take. What’s clear is that Betts has no intention of easing back into the lineup.
“I would like to go straight into playing the field,” he said. “I feel like I can help us defensively. We have some pretty good DHs. Let them do their thing.”
Roberts said he plans to use Betts at or near the top of the lineup in every game between now and the Dodgers’ next off-day, July 11.
In 17 games as a leadoff hitter through Friday, Trea Turner had a .355 batting average, .383 on-base percentage, and .579 slugging percentage. Roberts acknowledged for the first time Saturday that displacing Turner might not be worth the benefit of using Betts at the lineup position he’s most familiar with. The manager planned to meet with the two players before Betts returns.
Betts is familiar with second base; the outfield only became his primary domain when he reached Triple-A as a Boston Red Sox minor leaguer. He’s started another 20 games at second base in the majors, including six with the Dodgers.
Betts reported some pain around the affected rib after playing long toss Thursday, and perhaps no position demands long throws more regularly than right field. Betts believes he can benefit from having to cover less ground at second base, too.
“It’s just less running overall,” he said. “People take for granted simply going from the dugout to right field ― you’re running out there, balls in the gap ― it’s a lot less steps. That’s really all it is. Kind of like load management.”
On June 15, Betts collided with Cody Bellinger in the outfield in pursuit of a fly ball in the first inning of a game against the Angels. Betts remarkably finished out the game and did not go on the injured list until days later, when a follow-up scan revealed a cracked rib behind his right pectoral muscle.
Betts said he hasn’t gotten a follow-up scan recently, but it’s clear the last two weeks have been a time of rapid healing.
“It’s night and day different,” he said. “At that point I couldn’t swing. It was hurting to breathe. It was hurting to do everyday activity. Now, I’m moving around, it’s pretty normal.”
Caleb Ferguson (elbow) threw a simulated inning against Betts and Zach McKinstry and reported no issues afterward, Roberts said. The left-hander is expected to return to the Dodgers early next week, and will not need a minor league rehabilitation assignment in the meantime.
Ferguson, who turned 26 Saturday, has appeared in six games out of the Dodgers’ bullpen this season without allowing a run.
McKinstry (neck) will go out on a rehab assignment before he returns. Nine days after his last at-bat, the utility player said he will need “maybe two or three” games of rehab before he returns.
McKinstry, 27, has seen time at four positions plus DH this season, going 1 for 7 with a home run. He’s hit .215 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs in 70 games since his 2020 debut.
Minor league pitcher Jhan Zambrano also threw to Betts and McKinstry during the simulated game.
Dustin May is “really close” to beginning a minor league rehabilitation assignment too, Roberts said. The right-hander has thrown several live batting practice sessions at the Dodgers’ Camelback Ranch facility in Arizona.
May’s next competitive game will be his first since he underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2021.
San Diego (LHP MacKenzie Gore, 4-3, 3.34 ERA) at Dodgers (LHP Clayton Kershaw, 5-2, 2.94 ERA), Sunday, 1:10 p.m., SportsNet LA, 570-AM