The Boston Red Sox shifted Mookie Betts from right field to second base in the middle of Friday’s game against the Yankees.
Mookie Betts does it all for the Boston Red Sox. He hits home runs, can swipe a bag and chases down fly balls in the outfield with the best of them. Betts can even make an unexpected move to the infield in a pinch.
That’s the scenario the Red Sox were in Friday night when Ian Kinsler was removed from the game with a sore hamstring. Injuries have already thinned the infield so when the freshly acquired Kinsler went down it left the team scrambling to find a second baseman.
Betts came up through the Red Sox farm system as a second baseman but transitioned to the outfield due to Dustin Pedroia blocking his path to playing time in Boston. He played mostly center field after getting called up to the big leagues in 2014 but Betts did log 14 games at second base late that season when Pedroia was sidelined. That was his only experience playing the position at the major league level.
It had been four years since Betts played second base but he didn’t miss a beat when called upon. He fielded every ball hit his way as naturally as an everyday second baseman would.
Betts routinely takes ground balls to keep his skills as an infielder sharp just in case the opportunity to move back to his former position came along. After the game, Betts told the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo that getting the chance to play second base again “was like a dream come true.”
Don’t expect Betts playing second base to suddenly become a regular occurrence either. Even with Kinsler likely heading to the disabled list, the Red Sox are better off keeping Betts in right field. He handled second base fine and has the athleticism to play almost anywhere on the field. However, “fine” is a steep drop from fantastic.
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Betts could become a great second baseman if he played the position on a regular basis but he’s by far the best right fielder in baseball. His metrics are off the charts at a position notoriously difficult to play at Fenway Park. Nobody can handle that outfield territory the way Betts can.
There’s also more risk of injury at second base, which is why former manager John Farrell avoided using Betts at that position once he developed into a star. Why risk having their best player taken out by an opponent sliding into the base? We saw hit happen last year when Pedroia was spiked by Manny Machado on a dirty slide.
Alex Cora indicated that he’s not opposed to the idea as much as his predecessor was but that doesn’t necessarily mean he intends to go back to using Betts at second. It was bench coach Ron Roenicke‘s call to let Betts move to the infield after Cora was ejected in the first inning – which, by the way, may have been the quickest hook in MLB history. The umpire tossed Cora before he even reached home plate to argue.
While Cora said he agreed with Roenicke’s decision, we don’t know that he would have made the same call if he were still in the dugout. He may have said that to be supportive of his bench coach, showing Roenicke that he has his back.
Betts getting the chance to play second base came about due to a perfect storm of events. Rafael Devers and Blake Swihart are on the DL. They wanted to stay away from using Bogaerts to give his sore hand more time to heal. Xander ended up coming in anyway but only as a defensive replacement late in the game so that he wouldn’t have to hit. Once Kinsler got hurt it left the Red Sox with few options.
They could have put Pearce at second. He’s played the position before but not particularly well. Then again, nobody is confusing Pearce’s glove work in right field with Betts.
The Red Sox will call up another infielder to replace Kinsler, who isn’t expected to be sidelined for long. Devers should be back soon, freeing Eduardo Nunez to go back to second base until Kinsler returns.
This may end up being the only appearance at second for Betts this season but he’s grateful for the opportunity to revisit his old position.