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Beltre Not in Hot Water at Hot Corner

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Adrian Beltre is considered the Dodgers’ top major league prospect, and team officials have predicted success for the rookie third baseman.

But should Beltre’s audition continue with the National League wild-card berth at stake?

The consensus among team decision makers is that Beltre is where he belongs. But the 21-year-old infielder is struggling and taking at-bats away from others who have contributed, seemingly weakening the lineup.

Regardless, the Dodgers are sticking with Beltre--for now--because of his performance and potential. It’s a risky decision, but the Dodgers have become accustomed to taking chances during this eventful season.

“I’m not looking for him to go anywhere [the minor leagues],” Manager Glenn Hoffman said. “With everything, we look at things one day at a time, and [interim General Manager] Tommy [Lasorda] and I always talk about personnel and making the team better. But we’re all very pleased with the job the kid is doing over there, and we need him here with us.”

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Beltre has impressed occasionally.

He established a career high with three hits in four at-bats Tuesday in an 8-6 loss to the Florida Marlins.

Entering Wednesday’s game against Florida, Beltre had six multiple-hit games. And he often dazzles defensively because of his range and arm.

“This kid is going to be a star,” Lasorda said. “We brought him up here to give us a shot in the arm, and that’s what he’s done.”

At times, one can understand why Lasorda purchased Beltre’s contract from double-A San Antonio, enabling the native of the Dominican Republic to bypass triple-A Albuquerque in only his fourth professional season. And other times, it appears Beltre belongs at San Antonio.

In 41 games before Wednesday, Beltre was batting .230 (32 for 139) with two home runs, 11 runs batted in and 25 strikeouts. He had committed 10 errors.

Bobby Bonilla, 35, is playing out of position in left field to accommodate Beltre. He underwent wrist and Achilles’ tendon surgery during the off-season, missing spring training.

Bonilla doesn’t move as well as he used to, and he’s better suited to play third at this point in his career. Moreover, with Bonilla occupying left, Trenidad Hubbard and Matt Luke have fewer opportunities. The righty-lefty platoon of Hubbard and Luke has worked.

Still, even Beltre acknowledges things could be better.

“I’m learning a lot about the game now,” he said. “I’m working hard, and I just have to keep doing that to get better.”

Lasorda and Ralph Avila, the team vice president who runs the Campo Las Palmas development facility in the Dominican Republic, are Beltre’s biggest supporters in the organization. Avila signed Beltre in 1994 and has been his mentor.

“He was trying to carry the ballclub all by himself,” said Avila, the de facto assistant general manager in the new regime. “He’s a rookie and he’s trying to carry the team.

“That just put pressure on him, because he wants to help his team very much. I talk to him every day, and I just tell him to relax and do what we know he can do. He’s going to be fine.”

The Dodgers hope so.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Bats and Beltre

What Adrian Beltre’s numbers project to over a full season (500 at-bats):

Average: .225

Runs: 32

Doubles: 28

Home runs: 7

RBIs: 39

Strikeouts: 88

Errors: 39


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