Mookie Betts extends tear as Dodgers win doubleheader opener:

Los Angeles Dodgers & # 39;  Mookie Betts celebrates his two-run home run with Hanser Alberto (17) during the sixth inning of the first game of a double-header baseball against the Arizona Diamondbacks Tuesday, May 17, 2022, in Los Angeles.  (AP Photo / Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Mookie Betts flashed the Dodgers’ new “switch it up” hand sign – his right thumb and pinky extended from his fist – toward the dugout in excitement.

He met third base coach Dino Ebel with a smooth low-five. He finished his trot around the bases with a passionate two-handed exchange with Hanser Alberto at home plate.

In the Dodgers’ 7-6 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday afternoon, Betts had just lifted a two-run home run to left field, the first of three long balls the Dodgers hit during a go-ahead, five-run rally in the sixth inning.

As he has done much more during his resurgent start to this season, Betts completed each step of the ensuing celebration with a wide, stress-free smile on his face.

“Mookie is his best,” manager Dave Roberts said, “when he’s making work fun.”

The former MVP certainly did that in the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday.

Betts led off the first inning by smoking a single to left field, the ball jumping off his bat at almost 106 mph.

Following a third-inning strikeout, in which he took a called third strike on the outside edge, he responded with a thunderous first-pitch swing in the sixth, cracking his eighth home run of the season and sixth in the last 15 games a projected 391 feet to tie the score at 3.

After Trea Turner and Justin Turner put the Dodgers in front later in the sixth with a solo and two-run home run, respectively, Betts also scored what proved to be the deciding run in the seventh, lining a double to left before coming home on Freddie Freeman’s RBI single.

“I’m having a lot of fun playing,” said Betts, who raised his batting average to .269 and on-base-plus-slugging percentage to .846 following his first three-hit performance of the season. “Just trying to look at things from a different lens and trying to enjoy each and every day. It seems to be kind of giving me relief and taking some pressure off myself. Just enjoying being here. ”

Betts’ upbeat outlook had been a topic of discussion hours earlier, earning praise from Roberts during a pregame media scrum.

The manager had not only been impressed by Betts’ recent tear at the plate – the right fielder is batting .315 over his last 22 games with eight home runs and 17 RBIs – but also his renewed mindset this season.

“He’s playing a game and not going to ‘work’ every day,” Roberts said. “I think that mindset just takes: [off] a little bit of the added anxiety or pressure or stress. I believe that, and it certainly manifested in his performance. ”

Dodgers & # 39;  Mookie Betts connects for a two-run home run.

The Dodgers’ Mookie Betts connects for a two-run homer in the sixth inning of a doubleheader opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The frustration Betts battled last year, when a nagging hip injury contributed to his career lows in batting average and RBIs, has disappeared. Enthusiastic outbursts such as Tuesday’s have once again become commonplace.

“Success definitely does help that process, but when I started this process, I was not succeeding,” Betts pointed out, referring to the .178 batting average he had before this stretch. “So I just kind of stuck through the whole thing. Yes, it is work, but I do not want to make it work. I just want to enjoy being here, enjoying being around the guys. ”

Roberts compared it to Betts ‘showing in 2020, when his emotional reactions to leaping catches in the outfield and dramatic slides at home plate highlighted the Dodgers’ run to a World Series title.

“This guy was alive and energetic and jovial,” Roberts said. “Last year, there was only spurts of it. The injury part of it— it’s hard to have fun when you don’t feel well. “

Roberts added: “When you’re healthy like Mookie is right now, you can get back to having fun.”

The Dodgers made sure his latest display did not go to waste.

Despite giving up three runs in four innings, rookie right-hander Ryan Pepiot showed sharper command in his second major league start. The Dodgers’ bullpen did just enough, surviving a two-run seventh inning from the Diamondbacks before closer Craig Kimbrel converted his seventh save of the season in the ninth – an inning that included Roberts being ejected for arguing a check-swing call.

“This is time for the offense to carry us through,” Betts said.

On Tuesday afternoon, he led the charge.

“He’s been really special,” Trea Turner said of Betts. “It’s why he got paid a lot of money, why he’s won the awards and why he’s here leading us, because of games like today.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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