Red-hot Dodgers beat Mets, optimistic in Mookie Betts’ return soon
On Thursday afternoon, before the Dodgers’ 4-1 win over the New York Mets, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had a brief conversation with Mookie Betts. Roberts asked the star right fielder about the pain in his right hip that had hampered him since the start of the season. The answer said it all.
“He said it was gone,” Roberts said. “And he said it with a smile. I haven’t seen him smile like that in quite some time.”
Betts worked out in left field at Dodger Stadium ahead of his team’s win with a trainer because he’s on the injured list with a right hip injury that has lingered since April for the second time in a month. He is optimistic — after emerging pain-free — that there won’t be a third stint.
“First time I’ve felt normal in a long time,” Betts said. “So, super excited.”
Roberts said Betts is scheduled to play in a simulated game Sunday. The former MVP will then do more work Monday and Tuesday before possibly going on a rehab assignment. He could be activated from the injured list by the end of next week.
In the meantime, the Dodgers (76-46) methodically handled the Mets to open a four-game series for their seventh straight win and 11th in 12 games. With it, they moved within 21/2 games of the first-place San Francisco Giants in the National League West with 40 games left on the schedule. The Giants were idle.
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Seven pitchers combined to hold New York (60-61) to one run on six hits with eight strikeouts, one hit by pitch and no walks as the Dodgers opted for another bullpen game to compensate for a short-handed starting rotation with Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urías and Tony Gonsolin on the injured list and Trevor Bauer on paid administrative leave.
Blake Treinen, not closer Kenley Jansen, was summoned for the ninth inning and struck out the side for his fourth save. He hasn’t surrendered an earned run in 242/3 innings over 23 appearances since June 25. Roberts said Jansen was given the night to rest after throwing 11 pitches Monday and 24 on Tuesday.
“His slider is pretty much unhittable right now,” catcher Will Smith said of Treinen.
AJ Pollock and Chris Taylor each delivered an RBI groundout in the second inning off Mets starter Taijuan Walker to give the Dodgers the lead. They tacked on two more in the fifth on a pinch-hit RBI double from Billy McKinney and Trea Turner’s RBI single.
Turner, acquired at the July 30 deadline, operated out of the leadoff spot, Betts’ territory for most of his brief Dodgers career. Last season, Betts starred once he was placed atop the lineup. This season was different.
For months this year, while Betts posted production below his lofty standards, questions about his physical health circulated. Was a balky back the reason for his relative struggles? Was it his sore left shoulder? Was he healthy and just not playing well?
Betts revealed Thursday the reason was none of those ailments that sporadically cost him a few games through the All-Star break. And it wasn’t that he suddenly regressed from an MVP-caliber cornerstone. The problem all along was his right hip.
“It’s been like this since the first week of the season,” Betts said.
Betts, 28, played through the irritation. He was named an All-Star despite his drop-off in production — he was batting .256 with an .839 on-base-plus-slugging percentage at the break —
but elected not to play in the All-Star game to nurse the hip injury, which had not yet been revealed.
The Dodgers planned on managing the injury by giving Betts more days off and occasionally starting him at second base, but the discomfort became unbearable a few days into the second half and he was placed on the injured list. He received a cortisone injection to numb the pain and returned to the lineup after 11 days. He landed back on the injured list 10 days later after going eight for 21 with three home runs in five games. The pain was too much.
A doctor then discovered the genesis of the problem: a bone spur in the hip. Betts may need surgery to shave or remove the spur, but he elected to push that possibility until after the season. Instead, he received a second cortisone shot that he said has been more effective.
Betts said he doesn’t anticipate needing another cortisone shot before the end of the season. He said he expects to finish the year without missing any more significant time.
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“I feel normal now,” Betts said. “I feel like in spring training now.”
On Thursday, he was limited to a workout that served as a significant step in the right direction. He raced first base coach Clayton McCullough and “felt like Usain Bolt” against him. He said he wouldn’t have been able to run like that last month when the pain was at its peak. He was slated to later take swings in the cage for his first baseball activity since last week.
By the end of next week, he could be back in the lineup giving the surging Dodgers a jolt for the stretch run with a smile.
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