BOSTON (CBS) — When the first pitch of the 2018 Red Sox season is thrown, it will be Mookie Betts standing in the batter’s box.
New manager Alex Cora said Thursday in Fort Myers that he drew up many potential lineups over the winter. They changed from day to day, but what Cora found hiimself coming back to the most was Betts in the leadoff spot — most often followed by Andrew Benintendi in the two-hole.
“Out of all the lineups that I made, there was something very consistent — the top two spots. Betts, Bentintendi. Betts, Benintendi,” Cora said. “Regardless of who we are or what we do throughout the spring and the decisions that we make, I wanna see those two guys — if they’re healthy March 29th. I don’t want to play manager over there for [Kevin Cash] in Tampa, but [Chris] Archer will be throwing the first pitch to Mookie Betts.”
Betts did spend more time in the leadoff spot last year than any other position in the lineup, but he did slide around from the first through fourth spot.
MOOKIE BETTS, 2017
Batting 1st: 81 games, .266 AVG, .815 OPS
Batting 2nd: 14 games, .250 AVG, .700 OPS
Batting 3rd: 40 games, .270 AVG, .815 OPS
Batting 4th: 18 games, .257 AVG, .797 OPS
He batted cleanup for the Red Sox’ four postseason games, but in a lineup that lacked power last year, Cora identifies Betts as a table-setter.
In 2016, when Betts finished second in AL MVP voting, he played 109 games batting leadoff and 36 games in the cleanup spot. His numbers in both spots were comparable.
For his part, Betts said Thursday that he has no preference when it comes to where he’s slotted in the lineup.
“Nope — as long as I’m in there, that’s all that matters,” he said.
“I’ve hit leadoff my whole life, so I don’t think it’s anything different than what I’ve always done,” Betts also said. “I think the difference was when I was batting in the middle of the order. That was the different part for me. But going back to leadoff is kind of like going back home, so I can kind of go and do my thing.”
As for what impact he can make himself, Betts admitted he might have put a little extra pressure on himself in 2017. He was coming off a near-MVP season, and with David Ortiz gone, Betts felt a little pressure to be “the guy” in the Red Sox’ lineup.
This year, he plans on taking a lot of that pressure off his shoulders.
“I just have to take that pressure off myself and know that everybody else can take care of business,” he said. “I put a little there. But I understand now that I can’t do that. I just need to be me. I can’t be anybody else.”
Betts was also asked about a desire to lead in the clubhouse with a more demonstrative personality. Betts’ response was right in line with his approach on the field.
“I just kind of want to be me. However the future goes, it goes. But right now I just want to be me, and I’ll be somebody that smiles and brings joy to the locker room and the field, kind of everywhere,” Betts said. “I don’t want to try and be something that I’m not. I just want to be myself.”
Betts, 25, downplayed any potential impact of his offseason arbitration case. And while sometimes such cases — during which the team lists a player’s flaws as reason to not meet that player’s salary demands — can lead to diminished confidence, Betts said he’s received nothing but support from Cora thus far.
“We talked on the phone, we texted, he sent little things saying ‘need you to do this, need you to do that, I want you to be yourself, just go play the game and have fun.’ Pretty much just all positive things,” Betts said. “When you get something like that, it makes you feel good about yourself, knowing that your manager, your leader of the team, believes in you and knows that what you can do can help the team win.”