'Making work fun': Mookie Betts extends tear as Dodgers sweep doubleheader

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Los Angeles Dodgers' Mookie Betts celebrates his two-run home run with Hanser Alberto (17) during the sixth inning of the first game of a baseball double-header against the Arizona Diamondbacks Tuesday, May 17, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
The Dodgers' Mookie Betts celebrates his two-run home run with Hanser Alberto during the sixth inning of the first game of a doubleheader against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Mookie Betts flashed the Dodgers' new “switch it up” hand sign — his right thumb and pinky extended from his fist — toward the dugout in excitement.

He met third base coach Dino Ebel with a smooth low-five. He finished his trot around the bases with a passionate two-handed exchange with Hanser Alberto at home plate.

In the Dodgers’ 7-6 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday afternoon, Betts had just lifted a two-run home run to left field, the first of three long balls the Dodgers hit during a go-ahead, five-run rally in the sixth inning.

As he has done much more during his resurgent start to this season, Betts completed each step of the ensuing celebration with a wide, stress-free smile on his face.

“Mookie is his best,” manager Dave Roberts said, “when he's making work fun.”

The former MVP certainly did that Tuesday, helping the Dodgers sweep a doubleheader from the Diamondbacks.

In the team’s 12-3 win in the nightcap — which featured four RBIs from Trea Turner, a three-run home run by Edwin Ríos, and a strong seven-inning start from Tyler Anderson — Betts walked twice and scored three runs.

It was his performance in the afternoon, however, that stood out most on a day the Dodgers (24-12) won their third and fourth straight games.

In a three-for-four performance, Betts led off the first inning by smoking a single to left field, the ball jumping off his bat at almost 106 mph.

Following a third-inning strikeout, in which he took a called third strike on the outside edge, he responded with a thunderous first-pitch swing in the sixth, cracking his eighth home run of the season and sixth in the last 15 games a projected 391 feet to tie the score at 3.

After Trea Turner and Justin Turner put the Dodgers in front later in the sixth with a solo and two-run home run, respectively, Betts also scored what proved to be the deciding run in the seventh, lining a double to left before coming home on Freddie Freeman's RBI single.

“I’m having a lot of fun playing,” said Betts, who raised his batting average to .269 and on-base-plus-slugging percentage to .846 following his first three-hit performance of the season. “Just trying to look at things from a different lens and trying to enjoy each and every day. It seems to be kind of giving me relief and taking some pressure off myself. Just enjoying being here.”

Betts’ upbeat outlook had been a topic of discussion hours earlier, earning praise from Roberts during a pregame media scrum.

The manager had not only been impressed by Betts’ recent tear at the plate — the right fielder is batting .315 over his last 22 games with eight home runs and 17 RBIs — but also his renewed mindset this season.

“He's playing a game and not going to ‘work’ every day,” Roberts said. “I think that mindset just takes [off] a little bit of the added anxiety or pressure or stress. I believe that, and it certainly manifested in his performance.”

Dodgers' Mookie Betts connects for a two-run home run.
The Dodgers' Mookie Betts connects for a two-run homer in the sixth inning of a doubleheader opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The frustration Betts battled last year, when a nagging hip injury contributed to his career lows in batting average and RBIs in a full season, has disappeared. Enthusiastic outbursts such as Tuesday’s have once again become commonplace.

“Success definitely does help that process, but when I started this process, I wasn’t succeeding,” Betts pointed out, referring to the .178 batting average he had before this stretch. “So I just kind of stuck through the whole thing. Yes, it is work, but I don’t want to make it work. I just want to enjoy being here, enjoying being around the guys.”

Roberts compared it to Betts’ showing in 2020, when his emotional reactions to leaping catches in the outfield and dramatic slides at home plate highlighted the Dodgers’ run to a World Series title.

“This guy was alive and energetic and jovial,” Roberts said. “Last year, there was only spurts of it. The injury part of it — it’s hard to have fun when you don’t feel well.”

Roberts added: “When you’re healthy like Mookie is right now, you can get back to having fun.”

In their sweep of the Diamondbacks (18-20), the Dodgers made sure his latest display didn’t go to waste.

In the afternoon game, rookie right-hander Ryan Pepiot showed sharper command in his second MLB start, but still gave up three runs in four innings. The bullpen held onto a late lead, though, with Craig Kimbrel picking up his seventh save.

The night game wasn’t nearly as close, with the Dodgers erasing another early two-run deficit with a 12-run explosion.

“This is time for the offense to carry us through,” Betts said, with the team in the midst of a 31-games-in-30-days stretch.

On Tuesday afternoon, he led the charge.

“He’s been really special,” Trea Turner said of Betts. “It’s why he got paid a lot of money, why he’s won the awards and why he’s here leading us, because of games like today.”

Dodgers score a dozen

The Dodgers offense set a season high for runs by plating a dozen in the second game Tuesday. After Anderson gave up two solo home runs in the top of the first, the lineup immediately tied the score in the bottom half of the inning on a two-run single by Trea Turner.

In the second, they broke the game open, hanging six more runs on Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly. After a two-run double from Gavin Lux and RBI single from Trea Turner, Ríos capped the inning with a three-run homer in his first game as the cleanup hitter.

The Dodgers took a couple more whacks at the piñata late, scoring three runs in the sixth and one more in the eighth.

Trea Turner finished the night two for four with four RBIs. Freeman had three doubles and three RBIs. And the game was so out of hand by the end, Alberto was called upon to pitch the ninth inning.

Injury updates

Reliever Tommy Kahnle was placed on the injured list Tuesday with right forearm inflammation. Kahnle, who has made only four appearances since returning from Tommy John surgery, said he wasn’t “too concerned” but is set to have an MRI on Wednesday.

David Price and Mitch White were both activated from the COVID-19 injured list Tuesday. In corresponding moves, Caleb Ferguson was optioned and Shane Greene was designated for assignment.

Roberts said Trea Turner has also been dealing with a sore calf the past couple days, but that he's been able to play through it without issue.

Clubhouse closed to media

The Dodgers did not open their clubhouse to media members after Tuesday night’s game, the first time this season reporters were barred from the locker room. It is a measure that other teams have taken recently in response to COVID-19 issues.

Roberts said all on-field personnel for the Dodgers were available Tuesday. There were multiple changes to the Dodgers’ television and radio broadcast teams between games.

The team declined to comment on the situation.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.