NEW YORK -- Mookie Betts won an MVP batting leadoff last year, but the World Series trophy was practically still champagne-soaked when manager Alex Cora decided he'd make a change.
Cora believed that Betts' production demanded a spot one rung down in the order where he could drive in runs and still set the table for J.D. Martinez and Co., and besides, Andrew Benintendi represented a perfect replacement at leadoff.
Two months into the season, that experiment is over. Before Saturday's game against the Yankees, Cora announced that Betts will move back to leadoff and stay there for the rest of the season.
"I think we're going to roll with this now," he said. "There's certain things you take into consideration. We talk about at-bats with men on and all that. But there's other part of the equation that numbers don't show as far as what you can do or you cannot do with certain orders. This morning I got up and said, 'This is how we're going to roll.' I just talked to Mookie and I said, 'You're going to lead off the rest of the season.' That's where we're going to do."
The top of the order hasn't clicked like it did last year. Benintendi is hitting just .257 overall, and he's 3 for 37 (.081) leading off games. Betts, meanwhile, is a lifetime .303 hitter with a .904 OPS out of the leadoff spot, though he has hit only .108 there this year (vs. .324 with a .953 OPS batting second).
Cora was asked if Betts is more comfortable in the leadoff spot. After winning a batting title last year with a .346 average, Betts is hitting .287.
"He's OK," Cora said. "He really doesn't care. Just a matter of letting him know what we're going to do. I told him we did it last year, there's no switching. Just go ahead and lead off and dominate. It's a different era. Start looking around the league and George (Springer), what he's doing in Houston. I think the Braves did it too with (Ronald) Acuna, he's hitting fourth and all of a sudden he's leading off. I don't know. There's something about that spot that we like to put pressure on it and I think he's the right guy to do it. Benny can't benefit from other stuff and Mookie getting on."
Benintendi will return to the No. 2 spot as Cora pulls the plug on the plan he trumpeted all offseason. The hope is that the offense becomes more dynamic.
"We ask players to make adjustments and the way things are going, the way things we felt offensively -- it's not about at-bats with men on," he said. "We felt there are certain things we were able to do last year offensively, that combo that way, that this year it's not possible because we have that guy hitting second. I know people are getting caught up in Benny leading off and all that. He was 2-for-whatever. But even when he's getting on, they had that guy behind him and it's kind of like, should we run? How are we going to handle this? And we like to play fast, we like to run. Everybody knows it so it's not a secret. I do feel that this way it opens up a few things for us offensively to get going. Just relying on the home run or not putting pressure on the opposition and I think this way we can do it."
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