Miguel Rojas is shining at shortstop. Will Dodgers keep him there when Mookie Betts returns?



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It has been only two weeks since Miguel Rojas replaced the injured Mookie Betts as the Dodgers’ starting shortstop, more than enough time for the 35-year-old veteran to alter the makeup of the team’s infield come playoff time.

The slick-fielding Rojas has reminded the Dodgers just how important it is to have a reliable defender at shortstop in October, one who won’t make the team’s front office, manager, coaches, players and fans squirm when the ball is hit to him.

Rojas, who has not committed an error in 215⅔ innings at shortstop this season, is clearly that guy. He has excellent range to his left and right, soft, sure hands, a strong and accurate throwing arm, and he’s adept at starting and turning double plays.

Rojas is athletic enough to make plays from a variety of body positions and arm angles. His internal clock, which helps infielders know how much time they have to make a throw based on a runner’s speed, is as finely tuned as a Swiss watch.

“For me,” Dodgers third-base coach Dino Ebel said, “he’s one of the top five defensive shortstops in baseball.”

Betts, for all his athleticism and his willingness and ability to move from right field to second base last winter and from second base to shortstop — a position he hadn’t played regularly since high school — this spring, is not.

He could be eventually, but the dynamic leadoff man is expected to be out six to eight weeks after suffering a left-hand fracture when he was hit by a 98-mph fastball on June 16, a lengthy absence that will stunt his growth at his new position.

And Betts, a six-time Gold Glove Award-winner in right field, wasn’t in Gold Glove contention when he got hurt — he had nine errors in 531 ⅓ innings at shortstop this season, eight of them throwing and one fielding.

All of which raises the question: If Rojas keeps hitting the way he has this season, one of his best with the bat in 11 years in the big leagues, would Dodgers manager Dave Roberts consider leaving him at shortstop when Betts returns and moving Betts to second base, where Gavin Lux hasn’t exactly been tearing it up offensively?

“I would, I would,” Roberts said. “I don’t think anyone can debate the level of shortstop play from Miguel Rojas. Some of it is contingent on the timeline for Mookie’s return and where Miggy is physically and how things are going. But to your question, would I consider it? Absolutely.”

For Rojas to remain the starting shortstop all summer and into the fall, he has to stay healthy, which is why he’s spending more time with his legs wrapped in a blood flow restriction (BFR) machine and less time taking ground balls, part of a modified pregame and postgame training regimen designed to keep him on the field.

Rojas began the season as a utility man, starting just 30 of the team’s first 73 games through June 16, the day Betts was hit by that pitch from Kansas City Royals right-hander Dan Altavilla.

Rojas started 10 of the first 11 games at shortstop after Betts got hurt, a pace made possible by three off days in the past nine days but one that is not sustainable for a player who has battled leg injuries for several years.

“He’s having a heck of a year offensively and defensively, and I love the edge, the energy, he brings every night,” Roberts said. “The thing I have to be mindful of is managing his playing time because he’s just such a value to our ballclub.

“He will argue like most players that he can play every day, and that should be his mindset. But he’s still an older player who’s had some soft-tissue things, so I will find time to give him days off, because I think it’s best for him and for us long term.”

Rojas, who enters Tuesday night’s game against Arizona with a .287 average, .778 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, three homers, 13 doubles and 15 RBIs in 52 games, finally got a day off Sunday in San Francisco. There were no complaints.

“I think it’s a smart move, because I’m going to have the off-day Monday, too,” Rojas said after he had three RBI singles and a sacrifice fly in Saturday night’s grueling 14-7, 11-inning win over the Giants. “My role on this team changed a little bit when Mookie got hurt, and now I have to play shortstop every day.

“I need to recharge my batteries because I’m a guy that plays all-out, every single day, and I feel like I empty the tank. I need to refuel and be ready for Tuesday.”

Rojas, the team’s everyday shortstop last season, prides himself on his stellar defense and the passion he plays with.

“I want to inject some energy into the lineup, I want to be in the middle of the field trying to be another manager out there, helping the guys with positioning,” Rojas said. “I play hard every day, whether it’s running the bases or diving for balls. I don’t hold anything for later. I’m not trying to save myself for September.”

But to make it to September and October, Rojas knows he needs to take even better care of his body, which is why he started doing yoga and pilates this spring, stopped wearing the high-top spikes that seemed to affect his Achilles tendons, hamstrings and hips and spends at least 30 minutes in the training room before and after every game receiving treatment, including the BFR machine.

Also known as an occlusion training device, the BFR machine restricts blood flow to a muscle, a group of muscles and joints such as elbows and knees in order to beef up the lactic acid produced during exercise, a key component in building muscle. It also aids in recovery and healing.

“I’ve had some fluke injuries, like when I hurt my wrist [on a 2022 slide with Miami],” said Rojas, who had to be pulled from an early June game at Pittsburgh because of a groin injury. “But my legs have been bothering me for the last couple of years.

“So I’ve used the BFR machine on both legs for the last couple of weeks. I follow that with some treatment and more stretching, and I feel good. My body feels much better than it did last year, when I was playing a lot.”

Rojas has cut way back on his pregame routine, which, for the first 2½ months of the season, consisted of extensive work taking ground balls and helping Betts transition to shortstop. In addition to stretching more to increase his flexibility, Rojas is eating better and staying hydrated. He’s getting to sleep earlier.

“I’m taking this really seriously, because I don’t want them to feel like they need to go out there and find someone,” Rojas said. “I think I can do it.”

The moment that fastball hit Betts’ hand, there was speculation that the Dodgers would pursue a trade for a shortstop. Toronto’s Bo Bichette and the Chicago White Sox’s Paul DeJong have been mentioned as candidates, but Bichette is having a career-worst season, and DeJong wouldn’t be much of an upgrade over Rojas.

“That’s the chip on his shoulder — he wants to prove that he’s that guy,” Ebel said of Rojas. “I give him credit for even thinking that.”

Rojas will never be as dangerous in the batter’s box as Betts, but the Dodgers would be hard-pressed to find a better defensive alternative at shortstop.

“It’s a game-changer,” Roberts said of Rojas’ defense. “Mookie was doing the best he could given the circumstances, but Miggy is an 80-grade defender. He grew up as a shortstop. The repetitions that he’s taken over the years, over his life … he’s a lock-down guy.”

The challenge for Roberts will be finding that balance between playing Rojas as much as possible and resting him enough to keep him healthy over the next four months.

“For me, it’s talking to the training staff, it’s using my eyes and seeing how his body’s moving, picking out a day game after a night game, things like that,” Roberts said. “There is no exact science. I can’t just say it’s two on, one off, three on, one off, play six in a row.

“But he’s so valuable for us going forward that to make sure we keep him fresh is what’s most important, and that’s what my mindset will be. … I can’t say enough about Miggy Ro. I’m pushing him a little bit as far as playing time, but he’s coming up big.”



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