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Mookie Betts comes back to big leagues an improved outfielder

08.18.14 at 8:18 pm ET
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The outfield is becoming less mysterious for Mookie Betts with each game.

Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts

Now the second baseman-turned-outfielder will have another chance to show the Red Sox just how far he’s come.

Betts was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket Monday to play center field in place of Jackie Bradley Jr., who was optioned in order to work on his adjustments at the plate. This is the third time this season Betts has been sent up to the big club and the second time this month. Even in that short time, Betts said that over the course of his 10 games in center (out of 11 contests in Pawtucket), his comfort level increased at a position he hadn’t played in pro ball until this May.

“I’m just happy to get the opportunity again. I think I had a good productive three weeks,” Betts said, later adding, “I played a lot of center field. Just getting new plays — I got an opportunity to throw somebody out at home, got to throw a ball around a few times, just learning those things.”

Betts said he’s worked closely with PawSox hitting coach Dave Joppie on his outfield play, working on reading the ball off the bat as well as his routes to the ball, which he said have been noticeably better.

PawSox manager Kevin Boles agreed. Boles said he and the coaches focused on improving Betts’ center field play in Pawtucket with apparent results.

“That was a focus to make sure that he got a lot of reps in center field,” Boles said. “The initial breaks were getting a little bit better, but the closing speed is definitely, it’s really impressive how he can close on balls, even if the first initial three steps are a little bit questionable at times. Just the athleticism, the throwing, keeping things in order, throwing to bases, keeping the running game in order.”

He added: “I just think that from what he has been able to do in such a short amount of time, and those were the repetitions that he was going to get the second time through here, he’s handled it beautifully. He doesn’€™t let it affect his work habits. He was still taking ground balls on the infield, still getting his work and his maintenance done there. It never really affected his play. Similar to the big-league situation with Brock Holt, wherever he’s in the lineup, wherever he’s playing defensively, he doesn’€™t let it affect him and he’s ready to go. He’s got the right mindset for it.”

Red Sox manager John Farrell said there was “substantial improvement” in his outfield play from the first time he was called up in late June to the most recent call-up in early August.

“There were some routes that were still developing. Then when he came back to us the second time, I thought there was more range, more efficiency in those reads and those routes, and I just think that’s getting acclimated to the position,” Farrell said. “Particularly the ball deep in center field, I think he was better at going back on balls.”

Betts has also helped his cause with continued production at the plate. The 21-year-old is hitting .335/.417/.503 in 45 games with Pawtucket this season. Farrell said Betts, who’s hitting .244 in 45 major league at-bats, has shown the type of qualities at the plate that he’d like to see from Bradley.

“[Betts] didn’t take the going back to Pawtucket negatively. He picked up where he left off,” Farrell said, alluding to the team’s decision to send down the 21-year-old earlier this month. “He’s got a — I would consider — a fairly low-maintenance swing. It’s some of the things we’re talking about Jackie needing to get back to, and that’s bat speed, a more compact approach and he’s got a clear understanding of the strike zone as well.”

Now, Betts will get the opportunity to show whether he’s ready to do what Bradley could not in terms of production, with an everyday job in 2015 as the Red Sox center fielder potentially hanging in the balance.

Alex Speier contributed to this report from Pawtucket.

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