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Dodgers’ Roberts expects Betts “in MVP talk” this season

March 31, 2022 GMT
FILE -Los Angeles Dodgers' Mookie Betts bats during a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Los Angeles. Freddie Freeman joins former MVPs Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts and pitcher Clayton Kershaw as part of a formidable offense, making the Dodgers just the fifth team in major league history to boast that much talent at the same time. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)
FILE -Los Angeles Dodgers' Mookie Betts bats during a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Los Angeles. Freddie Freeman joins former MVPs Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts and pitcher Clayton Kershaw as part of a formidable offense, making the Dodgers just the fifth team in major league history to boast that much talent at the same time. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)
FILE -Los Angeles Dodgers' Mookie Betts bats during a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Los Angeles. Freddie Freeman joins former MVPs Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts and pitcher Clayton Kershaw as part of a formidable offense, making the Dodgers just the fifth team in major league history to boast that much talent at the same time. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)
FILE -Los Angeles Dodgers' Mookie Betts bats during a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Los Angeles. Freddie Freeman joins former MVPs Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts and pitcher Clayton Kershaw as part of a formidable offense, making the Dodgers just the fifth team in major league history to boast that much talent at the same time. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)
FILE -Los Angeles Dodgers' Mookie Betts bats during a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Los Angeles. Freddie Freeman joins former MVPs Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts and pitcher Clayton Kershaw as part of a formidable offense, making the Dodgers just the fifth team in major league history to boast that much talent at the same time. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)

GLEDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Mookie Betts doesn’t have much left on his career checklist. Two World Series rings, an AL MVP, five Gold Gloves and a batting title. He’s even bowled several perfect games.

Indeed, Betts hasn’t left many pins standing.

But there is one.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are hoping for an encore, a National League MVP to go along with his AL honor won with the Boston Red Sox in 2018.

“I can’t imagine him not being in the MVP talk this season,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Wednesday before boarding a bus to a spring-training game against the Cleveland Guardians.

Betts, who recorded a perfect game at the World Series of Bowling in 2017 and another in January, is coming off an All-Star season, his fifth. Yet it felt like a disappointment by his standards. He didn’t play in the All-Star Game because of pain in his back and left shoulder. An injury to his right hip bothered throughout most of the season.

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Roberts and Betts are confident that he is working his way back into his comfort zone, a place where he has proven that just about anything is possible, including another MVP.

The hip, he says, is healthy. So, too, is the confidence.

“I feel great,” Betts said. “I worked to get back healthy. I’m ready to go.”

Betts has worked patiently throughout spring. He appeared in only his fourth Cactus League game Wednesday night against Cleveland. He has yet to play in back-to-back games, but will soon.

Roberts said Wednesday he expects Betts to play three straight next week against the Angels. The Dodgers will leave Arizona after a game Saturday against the Giants. They’ll finish their spring-training schedule against the Angels in Anaheim on Sunday and in Los Angeles on Monday and Tuesday.

That’s when Roberts expects Betts to begin looking more like the player he was in his first year with LA.

“I’m confident we’ll see the player from 2020,” Roberts said.

Betts will be in the spot he has always preferred. He’ll lead off the order, Roberts announced.

“It’s just more comfortable in the leadoff spot,” Betts said. “I know where I’m hitting. I don’t have to look at the lineup. It’s a comfort thing.’’

It also plays to Betts’ strengths, said Roberts, who believes the leadoff role is in the right-fielder’s DNA.

“I think that just Mookie’s comfort level is to get the lineup going, to hit at the top,” Roberts said.

After Betts, Roberts said he expects Freddie Freeman to bat second and shortstop Trea Turner to bat third. Freeman signed a $162 million, six-year deal with the Dodgers on March 17. He might be Betts’ top MVP rival.

Betts finished second to Freeman, then an Atlanta Braves first baseman, in voting for NL MVP in 2020, when the Dodgers won the World Series.

NOTES: Right-handed reliever Tommy Kahnle is scheduled to pitch Saturday against the Giants in his first game in nearly 20 months. Then, he is expected to work through further rehab. Kahnle appeared in one game for the Yankees in 2020 before requiring Tommy John surgery that August. The reliver hopes to be ready in late April or early May. “It’s been one hell of a long trip,” Kahnle said.

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