After ‘crash course’ in the outfield, Dodgers’ Gavin Lux preparing for utility role

Gavin Lux of the Dodgers runs the bases after hitting a home run in the first inning Wednesday in a spring training game.
Gavin Lux runs the bases after hitting a first-inning home run for the Dodgers against the Cleveland Guardians on Wednesday in Phoenix.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

The Dodgers didn’t explicitly tell Gavin Lux to work on his outfield play this winter.

But after blossoming in a utility role at the end of last season, when the natural infielder filled in at multiple spots in the outfield while the team battled injuries down the stretch, Lux understood it was something he needed to do — adding outfield work into his offseason routine at a massive indoor training facility near his home in snowy Wisconsin.

“It’s hard to really replicate game fly balls, especially when you’re stuck indoors in Wisconsin,” he said. “But I still got a chance to, with my trainer, work on opening up and your first-step reads and stuff like that. You still could do some drill work, but it’s not the real thing.”


That made Wednesday another important step for Lux, as he played in the outfield in a game for the first time this spring.

While at heart, the club’s former top prospect still considers himself a middle infielder, he knows versatility in the outfield will provide him more opportunities on a loaded Dodgers roster that includes an All-Star shortstop in Trea Turner and proven veteran options elsewhere around the infield.

“I grew up playing shortstop, moved to second in 2019,” he said. “I love shortstop. But wherever I can play, I’m going to get out there and do it.”

Clayton Kershaw’s mindset might have led to visits to the injured list and millions in lost wages, but it’s also why he’s the most admired Dodger.

Lux played five innings Wednesday in left field while also hitting a home run and drawing a walk in the Dodgers’ 6-2 win against the Cleveland Guardians.

Earlier in the day, manager Dave Roberts said he expects the 24-year-old Lux will continue to split time between second base and left field once the season begins.

“It just adds to our versatility and makes him a more valuable baseball player,” Roberts said. “It didn’t even have to be sold to him. Gavin is a smart guy and understands that it gives him a chance to get more at-bats.”

That was the case for Lux last season. After struggling over the first half of the season, he was sent back to triple-A Oklahoma City in August.

When left fielder AJ Pollock suffered an injury in early September, the Dodgers called upon Lux to help add depth to the outfield.

“I think Doc called our triple-A manager [Travis Barbary] and said, ‘Hey we need him to play left field tomorrow,’” Lux recalled. “I was like ‘Oh, here we go, let’s do it.’ Honestly I was just happy to be back.”

For the rest of the regular season, Lux became a regular presence in the lineup as a left fielder and center fielder. All five of his postseason starts came in center field.

At first, the defensive results were mixed. Lux collided with Cody Bellinger while tracking a ball in one game in September, resulting in a couple of broken ribs for Bellinger. A couple weeks later, Lux left a game early after running full speed into the wall trying to make a catch.

But the more Lux played in the outfield, the more comfortable he became.

Chicago White Sox's Luis Busabe is caught stealing second by Dodgers second baseman Gavin Lux.
Chicago White Sox outfielder Luis Busabe is tagged out trying to steal by Dodgers second baseman Gavin Lux in a spring training game Monday in Phoenix.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

“Obviously there’s going to be some bumps out there, still learning how to play the position,” he said, noting he talked with Chris Taylor and Mookie Betts about their own transitions from infield to outfield.

“But I think I got some of them out of the way last year,” Lux continued. “Coming into this year, I kind of know what I need to work on out there because I got a bunch of games out there.”

Added Roberts: “It was a crash course. I think the open-mindedness from Gavin was the most important part of it. Now you layer on his skill set, it made it a lot easier.”

While he was adjusting to the outfield, Lux found a rhythm at the plate. Prior to his September recall, Lux had a career .217 big league batting average. During the last month of the season, he hit .360 with a home run, nine RBIs and more walks than strikeouts.

“I don’t think it was anything super mechanical,” he said. “Getting back up here and getting those opportunities in the outfield, I think it just freed me up a little bit.

“I just wanted to win and make the playoff roster, so I think all the internal focus was on winning instead of, ‘Oh, my swing doesn’t feel good, this doesn’t feel good.’ ”

Lux’s future role with the Dodgers remains unclear. Turner will be a free agent after this season, creating a possible opening at shortstop in 2023. The team doesn’t have a set long-term second baseman either, though Taylor’s new deal runs through at least 2025 and Max Muncy has a club option for next season.

For now, Lux said he is happy to continue in his hybrid role. He spent the winter preparing to play all over the field. And he’s hopeful he can carry over the momentum he built from the end of last season.

“I mean, you look at our roster and it’s like the N.L. All-Star team,” Lux said. “You look at what CT [Chris Taylor] did those last few years bouncing around, and he’s had a lot of success. I think doing something like that, that’s probably the role and I’m totally fine with that. Just getting out there, whatever it is, to help us win and do the little things right.”

Freddie Freeman played in his first spring training game with the Dodgers and got one hit in two at-bats. Pitcher Walker Buehler was sharp in his spring debut.

Short hops

Clayton Kershaw threw 37 pitches in his second start of the spring, going 2⅓ innings with two runs, two hits, four strikeouts and a walk. He said he continues to feel good coming off last season’s elbow injury, and was encouraged Wednesday by some of the changeups he threw, a pitch he has tinkered with during spring training in years past.

The Dodgers officially announced the signing of infielder Hanser Alberto. He will make $1.6 million this year and has a $2-million club option for 2023 (or a $250,000 buy-out). In a corresponding move, the Dodgers designated infielder Matt Beaty for assignment. Beaty had a minor league option remaining, but Roberts said “if you look at the construction of our roster, the runway he potentially would get, it just wasn’t going to happen for him here with us.”