Could throwing woes cost Dodgers' Gavin Lux a starting job? Dave Roberts weighs in

The White Sox's Nicky Lopez steals second base ahead of a throw to Dodgers shortstop Gavin Lux

Gavin Lux was spared a pair of errors Wednesday when first baseman Freddie Freeman dug out two one-hop throws from the Dodgers shortstop in a Cactus League game against the Chicago White Sox.

Manager Dave Roberts may not be as forgiving when it comes time to choose a starting shortstop for the season-opening two-game series against the San Diego Padres in South Korea on March 20-21.

The Dodgers handed Lux the job in the spring of 2023, only to see Lux suffer a freak right-knee injury while running the bases in the first week of exhibition games and lose the infielder to season-ending knee surgery.

Lux appears fully recovered from the procedure to repair the two main ligaments in his knee, and he was assured when he reported to camp this spring that he would be the team’s starting shortstop this season.

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But Lux could be losing his grip on the job because of an apparent recurrence of the throwing issues that derailed his first big-league spring training with the Dodgers as a 21-year-old in 2019.

Lux bounced his first Cactus League throw past first base for an error against the Texas Rangers on Feb. 28, and he bobbled the second grounder hit to him and threw late and low to first for another error against the Cincinnati Reds on Feb. 29.

Lux fielded a Nicky Lopez routine chopper in the third inning and a Yoan Moncada grounder in the fourth inning cleanly on Wednesday, but both of his throws to first were in the dirt.

“I don’t know,” Roberts said on Thursday, when asked if he anticipates Lux being his starting shortstop on opening day. “Obviously, performance is paramount at this level and for a team vying to win a championship. So I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know that it will be in the vein of whatever gives us the best chance to win.”

Dodgers shortstop Gavin Lux watches a pitch during a spring training game
Dodgers shortstop Gavin Lux watches a pitch during a spring training game Feb. 26 in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Lux came up through the Dodgers farm system as a shortstop and said before spring training that he feels “more athletic” at the position.

He declined to speak to reporters before Thursday afternoon’s workout, but after committing errors on the first two grounders hit to him this spring, he said that he was “100%” confident that his throwing accuracy would improve with more playing time.

“I’m still trying to feel out my knee and everything and get comfortable with that,” Lux said this week. “I haven't really played defense in a year and a half so I’m just getting out there and trying to get as many game reps as possible, and I’m working on the back fields and on the minor league side as much as possible to try to expedite this process.”

But Lux took another step backward with his errant throws Wednesday, and if he is to lock down the shortstop job, he will have to overcome what Roberts believes is a mental hurdle of throwing to first base.

“To do anything where you’re trying to be perfect is difficult, and I think there’s some part of it where he hasn’t played baseball in quite some time,” Roberts said. “As he’s making plays and trying to get it across the diamond, he’s trying to be too fine. I don’t think it’s the mechanics of it. I think it’s just freeing himself up to be the athlete that he is.”

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Does Roberts’ think Lux’s errant throws have affected his confidence?

“I think a little bit — I think that’s natural,” Roberts said. “In anything, you want to hit the ground running, and when it doesn’t go the way you hoped and prepared for, I think confidence can be shaken. But to be fair, there’s not a player out there who at times their confidence isn’t shaken. It’s about these guys bouncing back from that.”

Lux’s throwing issues were so severe in 2019 that the Dodgers pulled him from Cactus League action and had him work with infield instructor Jose Vizcaino on the back fields.

Roberts would not go so far as to say that Lux, who has played mostly second base in the big leagues, is suffering from a case of the “yips,” which has derailed many an infielder in the past.

“I don’t think that he’s the same person or player that he was years ago when he had those issues,” Roberts said. “They might be showing themselves a little bit, but I really do believe he’s in a much better head space, and it’s only going to get better.

“He is much more mature, as you would expect in [five] years time. He’s been through the highs, and he’s also been through some tough times with getting hurt. He’s just a much more mature ballplayer and person.

“I know he’s working his tail off as far as, No. 1, getting back to health, working real hard with our infield guys on the back field on completing plays. The next part of it is doing it in a game, in a big-league ballgame.”

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The Dodgers have a sure-handed veteran shortstop in Miguel Rojas as an insurance policy if Lux continues to struggle, but Rojas, who hit .236 with five homers and 31 RBIs last season, doesn’t have the offensive upside as the left-handed-hitting Lux, who has a .253 average, 18 homers and 105 RBIs in 273 career games.

Another option would be to move second baseman Mookie Betts to shortstop, a position at which Betts made 12 starts and performed well last season, and move Lux back to second base, a position at which Lux has made 153 of his 244 big-league starts.

Roberts isn’t ready to give up on Lux at shortstop just yet, but he said it’s “fair” to assume that the Dodgers will be willing to sacrifice some offense at shortstop in exchange for premium defense.

“You’re talking about a pitching staff that strikes some guys out but also puts some balls in play,” Roberts said. “You could argue that shortstop and catcher are the most premium positions, and defense should be a priority. … We have a lot of good players. Whatever we do is going to be in the best interests of winning.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.