LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers, struggling to find any consistency as a collective at the plate, just lost the man who made them go. For at least the immediate future, they’ll have to live life without Mookie Betts.
An MRI revealed a cracked rib in his right side that will land him on the injured list, manager Dave Roberts said. He didn’t have a set timetable for Betts’ return, which ultimately could come down to pain tolerance as Betts manages the injury.
“It’s certainly a big blow to all of us,” Roberts said.
Betts felt discomfort as he threw and swung a bat before Friday’s game, but X-rays came back negative. He did not initially go in for further testing, and the Dodgers listed him in their lineup for Saturday’s 7-1 victory over the Guardians, but he was scratched before first pitch. When he still felt tightness, the Dodgers opted for an MRI that revealed the damage.
The play that caused the injury, at first glance, seemed innocuous — Angels outfielder Taylor Ward chased a pitch below the zone and popped it up high between Betts and Cody Bellinger in right-center field. As Betts reached out for the ball, Bellinger kept charging, getting Betts’ right side first and bowling him over, jarring the ball out of Betts’ glove.
Seems like it might be relevant to post the controversial ruling. pic.twitter.com/x5AKA1cEMs
— Chad Moriyama (@ChadMoriyama) June 16, 2022
But when Betts and Bellinger each emerged with a smile, it appeared to be a dodged bullet. And as the night continued, with Tyler Anderson pursuing potential no-hit history, any visible sign of Betts’ discomfort faded. When Shohei Ohtani’s triple shot to the right field corner to break up the no-hitter, Betts laid out to his left unsuccessfully to try to grab it.
“I kind of laughed that he dove for it,” Anderson said afterward. “It’s a very nice gesture. But so far away.”
The damage had already been done to his other side. It was a similar collision with Gavin Lux last September that led Bellinger to play the rest of the season and postseason with a cracked rib. This one could have more devastating consequences, given Betts’ production and the lineup’s seeming over-reliance on the former MVP being its engine.
Betts has performed at an elite level this season in spite of a frigid cold streak to start the season. He didn’t slug his first home run of the year until a two-blast outburst in San Diego on April 22 — it would be the first two of 15 home runs he’d slug over the next 36 games through the end of May. During that stretch, he nearly doubled his OPS and sparked an offense that was scoring more runs per game than any in baseball.
As Betts’ bat began to run cold again in June, so did the Dodgers’ offense. They entered Saturday tied for the 20th-ranked offense in baseball by wRC+, struggles that only magnified whenever the Dodgers tried to capitalize on the chances they did generate. In June, the Dodgers have had the second-worst average in baseball with runners in scoring position (.171), striking out more often than anyone in those situations. They went weeks without so much as a sacrifice fly until Austin Barnes started the scoring on Saturday with one.
Betts’ absence will require more from the few Dodgers who already are hitting. Trea Turner extended his latest hitting streak to 11 games with a two-run homer that gave the Dodgers the lead for good on Saturday. Freddie Freeman, who said this week, “I haven’t gotten hot at all this year,” added on three hits. Chris Taylor, who started in Betts’ place in right field on Saturday, continues to be a man of strikeouts and extra-base hits of late.
That could mean more time in left field for Gavin Lux, who had a .900 OPS in June entering Saturday, when he laced an RBI triple. Eddy Alvarez, primarily an infielder, has some corner outfield versatility, as well.
Roberts said Zach McKinstry will likely be recalled on Sunday to take Betts’ spot on the active roster. The Dodgers will need to add another position player to the roster on Monday, when the limit on pitchers on the active roster drops from 14 to 13. The Dodgers only have two other position players on the 40-man roster who could be options: James Outman, an outfielder who entered Saturday with a .953 OPS in Double A, or Jacob Amaya, a shortstop who was recently promoted to Triple A.
They also have avenues to add another position player onto the 40-man roster if they put Walker Buehler on the 60-day IL. That could mean the Dodgers add a veteran such as Jake Lamb (who has a .922 at Triple-A Oklahoma City) or Stefen Romero (.826 OPS for Oklahoma City) who both have outfield experience, or look for a right-handed bat such as prospect Miguel Vargas, who has an .848 OPS with 10 homers in his first 287 Triple-A plate appearances.
Whichever way they go in replacing Betts, it will be a bandaid solution for a big blow to the Dodgers.
(Photo: Neville E. Guard / USA Today)