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For Mookie Betts, the move to shortstop is proving to be ‘the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do’

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mookie Betts has spent most of his career making everything about playing baseball look effortless.

Not so much in 2024. Not on defense anyway, where the six-time Gold Glove outfielder’s transition to shortstop has been bumpier than he’d like.

While the Los Angeles Dodgers star has hardly looked out of place, he also hasn’t excelled in the manner that came so easily to him during all those years roaming right field.

The reality is, there have been far too many nights like the one Betts experienced in Thursday’s 11-7 win over Pittsburgh.

Sure, the seven-time All-Star had two hits, including a three-run shot in the fifth that gave the Dodgers all the breathing room they’d need.

What stuck with him afterward, however, were the two errors he was charged that pushed his season total to nine, only two behind Cincinnati shortstop Elly De La Cruz’s major-league leading 11.

At one point, Betts turned to teammate Gavin Lux in the dugout and admitted, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

At times, it has looked that way.

Betts threw wide of first base on a chopper by Edward Olivares in the second inning, pulling Freddie Freeman off the bag. Olivares later came around to score. Another throwing error in the sixth allowed Andrew McCutchen to reach.

Even when Betts didn’t throw it away, he didn’t always make the play. He couldn’t seem to get the ball out of his glove on a sharp grounder by Jack Suwinski in the fourth that allowed the Pirates to load the bases. While Suwinski was awarded a hit, the look of frustration on Betts’ face was hard to miss.

Betts stressed he wasn’t looking for sympathy. He is trying to extend himself a little grace, as difficult as it can be in the moment. He began the offseason believing he would be the everyday second baseman in 2024 until manager Dave Roberts shifted him to shortstop with less than two weeks to go before the opener.

The 31-year-old has attacked the opportunity, putting in extra defensive work, adding he feels as good as he has in a decade despite playing a more demanding defensive position.

There’s a difference between feeling good, however, and feeling comfortable. At the moment, there’s not much comfort to go around.

“There’s no excuses but the fact is this is all new to me, this is all new,” Betts said. “And it’s going to take more than two months to get (right).”

The move hasn’t seemed to affect Betts at the plate. He got off to a torrid start though he had cooled of late and entered Thursday’s game hitting .042 (1 for 24) in his last six games before lacing a single off Bailey Falter in the first and dropping a three-run homer just over the center field fence in the sixth off Pirates reliever Ben Heller.

“He took the swings,” Roberts said of Betts. “And for him to the catch a barrel and go deep to center field, that was a really good sign.”

Betts is hitting .312 on the season and doesn’t think the near daily fielding drills he’s doing while trying to make a mid-career position adjustment has had any effect on what’s going on in the batter’s box.

“You’re going to go through your ups and downs and nobody enjoys the downs,” Betts said. “But, I’m just working. It’s the waves of the season. You know, you have to understand that. But that didn’t mean you accept it, but you have to understand it.”

Next up for Betts and the NL West-leading Dodgers is a trip to New York to face the AL East-leading Yankees. The former Boston Red Sox knows the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium is going to be electric. He’s hoping his glove is part of the show.

“You know it’s tough,” he said. “But I’ve got to get it done.”

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB

By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

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