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Mookie Betts shines at plate, on bases and in field as Dodgers close in on Giants

Mookie Betts shines at plate, on bases and in field as Dodgers close in on Giants

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Los Angeles, CA, Tuesday, August 31, 2021 - Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts (50) celebrates in the dugout after hitting a 4th inning homer off Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton (50) at Dodger Stadium. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
The DodgersMookie Betts celebrates in the dugout after hitting a fourth-inning homer at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

On most days this season, before he returned from a second stint on the injured list, Mookie Betts probably doesn’t score from first base on the double Corey Seager ripped into the gap in right-center field on the eighth pitch of his at-bat Tuesday night.

He probably doesn’t race around the bases for the go-ahead run and the Dodgers might not emerge with a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves at Dodger Stadium.

“He might have, but it might’ve come at a cost,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

But Betts said he was pain-free when he returned last week. He said the bone spur in his right hip, the source of the discomfort that hampered him for the first four months, wouldn’t be a problem after a second cortisone shot.

Time will tell whether that remains true for the remainder of the season, but Betts didn’t appear hindered Tuesday. The star right fielder delivered a throwback, three-pronged performance, clubbing his second home run in two nights and robbing a homer before his riveting 270-foot sprint, which he concluded with headfirst slide and a moment on his stomach to catch his breath under roars from the crowd.

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“That’s Mookie,” Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler said. “That’s why he’s here.”

Buehler produced another standout performance for his Cy Young resume, holding the Braves to two runs over seven innings as he logged least six innings for the 26th time in 27 starts. The outing was needed to keep the Dodgers (84-49) within striking distance; Charlie Morton held them to one run across six innings.

With the win, the Dodgers will begin September a half-game behind the first-place San Francisco Giants, who lost to Milwaukee Brewers, in the National League West with 29 games to go. It’s the closest the Dodgers have been to first place since July 6.

“I really believe that our best baseball is ahead of us,” Roberts said.

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Betts submitted the first highlight in the second inning when he ran unto the short wall in right field to steal a home run from Travis d’Arnaud.

“We kind of have the expectation with him that if it can be caught, it will be,” Buehler said. “And he keeps doing those kind of things.”

Two innings later, Betts hit his second solo home run in two nights and 19th of the season to cut the Braves’ lead to 2-1. Like Monday, Betts blew a kiss to his mother, Diana, sitting behind home plate after rounding the bases.

Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler pitches against the Atlanta Braves.

Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler pitches against the Atlanta Braves at Dodger Stadium Tuesday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“We’re a lot better team when he’s out in the field healthy,” Seager said. “What he can do, all around, he showed it tonight.”

On the other side, Joc Pederson returned to Los Angeles this week as a member of the Braves after visiting with the Chicago Cubs earlier in the season. He was traded in July because the Cubs gave up on their season and the Braves (70-61) sought replacements for All-Star Ronald Acuña Jr., who suffered a season-ending knee injury last month.

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Pederson didn’t start Monday; the Dodgers started Julio Urías, a left-hander, on the mound and Pederson has remained a platoon player for two clubs this season despite fleeing Los Angeles looking for an everyday role in free agency.

On Monday, he started his first game in center field at Dodger Stadium since 2018 with Buehler, a right-hander, on the mound.

Buehler and Pederson are friends. They spent several minutes talking on the field before Monday’s game. Andrew Friedman and Clayton Kershaw eventually joined the conversation. On Tuesday, Pederson got the best of his friend with a throwback highlight, tomahawking a high fastball out of the strike zone deep into the right-field pavilion to give Atlanta a 1-0 lead in the third.

“I know I’m going to get a text or whatever now,” Buehler quipped.

The Braves tacked on another run in the fourth inning on D’Arnaud’s RBI double. But that was all the Braves mustered off Buehler, whose league-leading earned-run average still rose from 2.02 to 2.05, before Blake Treinen and Kenley Jansen tossed two perfect innings to close out a crucial win made sweeter with Betts leading the charge.

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“He’s out there,” Seager said, “and just having fun playing again.”

Wanted: more pitching

The Dodgers kept busy on the waiver wire, claiming right-handed relievers Jake Jewell and Ryan Meisinger off waivers from the Cubs. Later Tuesday, the Dodgers announced they traded minor league catcher Stevie Berman to the Minnesota Twins for minor league left-hander Andrew Vasquez.

Jewell and Meisinger are the fourth and fifth players claimed by the Dodgers in August. They’ve claimed seven right-handed relievers off waivers since the beginning of May.

Both pitchers were added to the 40-man roster, filling spots opened by two unidentified players placed on triple-A Oklahoma City’s inactive list for COVID-19-related reasons, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Acquiring the three pitchers Tuesday wasn’t a coincidence. To be eligible to participate in the postseason, players had to be in their respective organizations by the end of the day.

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Short hops

Robert said he expects Kershaw to throw a two-inning simulated game Saturday. Kershaw, on the injured list since July 7 with forearm inflammation, logged one 15-pitch inning in a sim game at Dodger Stadium. Roberts on Monday indicated Kershaw could be activated after his next game. … Jansen passed Rollie Fingers for 13th on the all-time saves list. Jansen has recorded 30 of his 342 saves this season.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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