Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts unfazed in pursuit of learning Fenway outfield: ‘It’s a big adjustment, but I think I can handle it’

August 20, 2014 - 3:27 am

The challenge of learning the ropes out in center field still looks to be a work-in-progress for Mookie Betts. The Red Sox center fielder looked both capable and hesitant during Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the Angels. In the second inning, Betts looked like the heir apparent to Jackie Bradley Jr., robbing David Freese of a potential home run out in the triangle in the second inning before doubling off an advancing Erick Aybar just a few seconds later with a throw to first base. However, Betts also looked inexperienced at times, making an ill-advised dive on a Freese line drive in the fourth that resulted in a triple for the Angels third baseman. In the ninth inning, Angels designated hitter Brennan Boesch drove a Koji Uehara pitch out to the center-field triangle. While Betts gave pursuit, the ball bounced down and into the stands for a ground-rule double. In the following at-bat, catcher Chris Iannetta would then drive in Boesch with an RBI double to give Los Angeles the lead for good. While it was a mixed showing from a defensive standpoint, Betts took it all in stride after the game. "It's a learning experience, that's how I look at it," Betts said, adding, "You have your good and your bad. Some days are better than others." Despite Betts' up-and-down day in the field, Red Sox manager John Farrell had a positive takeaway from the 21-year-old's performance Tuesday night. "Looks like he got a little bit of a late read on Freese's ball, the sinking line drive," Farrell said. "He was aggressive, tried to make a diving catch, it gets by him for the triple. [Allen Webster] picked him up by leaving the runner stranded. He tracks a ball well to deep right-center field and takes a home run away that turns into a double [play]. Overall, he did a solid job in center." While Betts -- who has only played 53 games in center field at the professional level -- is expected to go through his fair share of peaks and valleys in the outfield for the remainder of this season, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said prior to Tuesday's game that Betts has the tools to quickly adjust to a new position. "Absolutely, he has the potential and he's a terrific athlete," Cherington said. "He's already shown progress defensively in the outfield, even when he was here the first time. For someone who has his kind of athleticism and overall instincts for the game, you'd expect the defensive side of it to continue to improve and that the learning curve to be really be quick, I would think. "[Being in the big leagues is] an opportunity for him to get some major-league at-bats for the rest of this year and just continue to build on what he's done already this year." While it would seem obvious that Boston -- now 16 1/2 games back of first-place Baltimore in the division -- would be using the final six weeks of the 2014 campaign to evaluate whether young players such as Betts have a tangible shot of contributing in 2015, Betts did not see such a scenario as being the case. "No, I don't think it's a tryout," Betts said. "I'm just up playing, whether it's Triple-A, big leagues, it doesn't matter. I'm not looking at it as a tryout at all." While Betts displayed both the good and the bad when it came to showcasing his present status as a major-league outfielder Tuesday, Farrell remained stout in stating that every single play involving Betts in the outfield -- whether it be gathering a routine fly ball or taking a bad read on a line drive -- will be another valuable lesson learned for the youngster. "I think every game played in center field is going to be a positive experience for him," Farrell said. "Given that he's gone through a positional change this season, particularly against major-league hitters [who have] the ability to drive the ball a little bit more consistently here than might be otherwise at the Triple-A level. Every game played here is going to be a positive one for him." Making the switch to a new position in the middle of the season may have presented a considerable challenge for Betts, but the talented second baseman-turned outfielder is certainly not ready to throw in the towel anytime soon. "I wouldn't say I'm fully comfortable, but I wouldn't say that I'm timid out there either," Betts said. "I think I still have a lot of things to learn, but I think I've learned a lot along the way." Betts added: "Being an infielder my whole life and moving out to the outfield and playing in the biggest stage, it's a big adjustment, but I think I can handle it."