SAN DIEGO — The Dodgers wanted something from Gavin Lux – his roster spot.
Lux and Matt Beaty were optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City in the wake of Wednesday’s 16-inning marathon, allowing the Dodgers to activate outfielder Mookie Betts from the injured list as planned and also add a fresh arm to the bullpen in left-hander Darien Nunez.
In the bigger picture, though, Lux has failed to deliver on what the Dodgers wanted from him this season. The top prospect in baseball two years ago, Lux was the starting second baseman at the beginning of the season and the every-day shortstop for much of the 10 weeks Corey Seager spent on the IL with a hand injury.
But Lux’s grip on playing time loosened with a .221 batting average and .643 OPS then disappeared entirely with Seager’s return and the trade for Trea Turner. In Wednesday’s game, it took until the 16th inning for Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to use him as a pinch-hitter.
It was Lux’s first at-bat in a week – and probably his last for the Dodgers for a while.
“Where our roster is at right now, he’s not an every-day player. But obviously, that’s kind of the light we see him in at some point,” Roberts said. “To get one at-bat in five days, it just makes sense for him to go down, get some at-bats. He’s working on some things mechanically. He’s in a good place and we’ll see where that takes him.
“They were difficult conversations (with Lux and Beaty). But the bar is very high with this ballclub.”
Roberts called Lux “uber-talented” and said nothing about his struggles this season has changed the high ceiling the Dodgers see for him.
“We still obviously value the heck out of Gavin. It’s his journey. It might not be the way he or we envisioned it. But this is where we’re at,” Roberts said.
“I don’t think it has changed that. I don’t think he has performed the way that he would have liked, certainly. If you’re talking about a runway – he’s had a good runway. I’m sure he’s disappointed with the way it’s gone. We make a trade and we’ve got to win baseball games. He understands that. My messaging – we had a great conversation – was go out there, control what you can control, play well and get back to help us win a championship.”
The conversation with Beaty was even more difficult. Roberts acknowledged his demotion was the product of “a roster crunch.” The main factor that led to Beaty’s demotion was likely the fact that he still has options while Billy McKinney does not and would have to pass through waivers before being sent to Triple-A.
“Matt has been very good for us for the last few years. Big hits. I’ve leaned on him numerous times – regular season, postseason,” Roberts said. “It’s nothing about his performance. There’s no messaging as far as working on this or that. He’s done everything that I’ve asked of him. It’s just more of a player that has options. Get to take at-bats every day and hopefully we can get him back at some point. Very difficult because he’s a major-league player.”
Getting back to the major-league roster will be more difficult this season than it has been in the past. Rosters will only expand to 28 in September, not the full 40-man roster of past seasons.
Betts returned to the lineup Thursday against the Padres, playing with Trea Turner for only the second time since Turner’s arrival from the Washington Nationals. Turner has batted leadoff in all of his starts with the Dodgers – Betts’ preferred spot in the lineup, as he made clear last season.
But Betts will bat third with Turner at leadoff, Roberts said, adding that he did not have to sell Betts on the move down two spots.
“No. I didn’t. It was a conversation that we had,” Roberts said. “With where Mookie’s body has been, expecting him to be as dynamic as he was stealing bases and things like that last year – I think Trea is a pretty good option to have at the top. Mookie understands that. No sales job.”
Betts’ return also creates a crowded outfield. Chris Taylor got the day off Thursday and Roberts said Cody Bellinger will be out of the starting lineup Friday against Colorado Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland.
“I think it’s four guys for three spots and keep moving guys around,” Roberts said of the group of Betts, Bellinger, Taylor and AJ Pollock. “Mookie’s going to need some days off. They’re all going to need some days off. … We’ll make it work.”
Roberts will handle Betts, in particular, carefully after pain from a bone spur in his right hip landed him on the IL twice in the past month.
Rockies (LHP Kyle Freeland, 4-6, 4.25 ERA) at Dodgers (TBA), Friday, 7:10 p.m., SportsNet LA, 570 AM