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Mookie Betts to play shortstop for Dodgers

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LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers placed Mookie Betts on the paternity list before Tuesday’s game against the Mets as the star outfielder and his wife, Brianna, welcomed their second child early Tuesday morning.

Although a paternity list stint can be extended for up to three days, Betts isn’t expected to be away from the team for long. In fact, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts expects him back in the lineup for Wednesday’s finale against the Mets, the MLB.TV Free Game of the Day.

When Betts returns to the team on Wednesday, the 30-year-old won’t be playing right field, a position where he has won six Gold Glove Awards in his decorated career. Instead, Betts will be starting at shortstop for the first time in his Major League career.

“There’s a chance I might slide him over to shortstop,” Roberts said with a smile. “He looks extremely natural. The guy can play anywhere on a baseball field.”

Betts, of course, came up as a second baseman through the Red Sox’s Minor League system. He was forced to pick up right field in order to speed up the process of getting him to the Majors. Since then, Betts has become one of the best defensive right fielders in baseball, taking home his most recent Gold Glove Award at the position last season.

But despite his natural skill in the outfield, the infield has always been Betts’ true passion. He is getting more playing time at second base this season. Roberts said Betts “has been clamoring” for a few years for the Dodgers to let him play shortstop, the position he played growing up.

“I think there were some reservations about him playing second base last year and he quickly put those to bed,” Roberts said. “So it’s going to be the same thing.”

Sliding Betts over to shortstop is a fun development, but it also comes out of necessity for a struggling Dodgers team that came into Tuesday’s game with a sub-.500 record after 17 games for the first time since the 2018 season.

With Miguel Rojas struggling at the plate and Chris Taylor battling a left side injury that will sideline him for at least a few days, the Dodgers needed to explore their options. That’s when Roberts called Betts on Tuesday morning and told him the plan of getting him into the game at shortstop. Betts, whose third-favorite position appears to be right field, was ecstatically on board with the decision.

“I think when you’re talking about the third string at any position, there’s some things that have to happen that you just got to kind of get through,” Roberts said. “But to have Mookie as your third string at anything, I think teams can be doing a lot worse.”

Though Betts takes grounders at shortstop before nearly every game, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares playing one of the most demanding positions on the diamond. Betts hasn’t started a professional game at shortstop since 2012 when he was in Low-A with the Red Sox.

Wednesday would be Betts’ 1,131st Major League game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the fifth-most career games played by anyone before their first MLB start at shortstop, within the past 30 years. Over that period, Betts trails only Russell Martin (who set the Modern Era record at 1,714 games for the 2018 Blue Jays), Eric Young (1,573 games for the 2004 Rangers), Jeff Cirillo (1,465 games for the 2006 Brewers) and Kelly Johnson (1,339 games for the 2015 Mets).

It might be a one-game thing for Betts. He’ll still be the team’s primary right fielder. But how much he plays shortstop and second base will ultimately be determined by how quickly Taylor recovers from his injury. If Taylor is sidelined for an extended period of time, Betts will get even more looks in the infield.

“He’s been clamoring for quite some time, so we’ll see how it plays out,” Roberts said.

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