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Betts laments defensive issues at SS: 'It's been not very good'

Harry How / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Mookie Betts' transition to shortstop might appear to be going smoothly from afar, but not in his eyes.

Speaking after a rough day Friday that saw him make an error and drop another ball while trying to turn a double play, the Los Angeles Dodgers superstar offered a frank assessment of his skills at the new position.

"I think it's been not very good," he said, according to Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. "It's a work in progress. It's my first time doing it in a long time. You have to start somewhere, and at least with me feeling like I'm on the lower end, there's nowhere to go but up from here."

A six-time Gold Glove winner in right field, Betts made the shift to shortstop full time partway through spring training in the wake of Gavin Lux's throwing issues. His move to the infield started last year when he got into 70 games at his natural position of second base, plus another 16 at shortstop.

While Betts first came up as a second baseman - he only switched to the outfield as a rookie in 2014 - and has said in the past that he's most comfortable at the keystone, shortstop is an entirely different matter. Last year marked the first time he played the position in a game since July 2012, in what was only his 19th professional appearance.

Betts' four defensive runs saved place third among qualifiers at shortstop, an impressive feat for someone learning on the fly. Other metrics tell a different story, though: Betts places last in defensive rating at shortstop (minus-1.4), tied for last in outs above average (minus-4), and third last in ultimate zone rating (minus-2.4). His arm strength, one of his best attributes as an outfielder, is also down, sitting in the 78th percentile at shortstop.

Though his own critique was harsh, manager Dave Roberts praised Betts for how he's handled the defensive adjustment.

"I think, offensively, he's been very good, and defensively, he continues to get repetitions," Roberts said. "And he has superseded everything I expected from him at this point at shortstop."

Betts - whose .988 OPS ranks third in the NL - did concede that he's made "some pretty short strides" defensively since March, but he expects his struggles will continue for the next little while. Long term, though, that could change as he gets more reps at shortstop.

"But it's good. I enjoy it," he said about the challenge of shortstop. "Sometimes it's good to get hit in the mouth a lot. But it is what it is. Take it on the chin and keep it moving."

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