Miguel Rojas given another crack at shortstop, but Dodgers minding his workload

SAN FRANCISCO — The Los Angeles Dodgers’ talent can lead to some quirky things. Miguel Rojas, by all accounts, has been a valuable member of yet another first-place club. After serving as the emergency everyday shortstop for a 100-win club last summer, he willingly ceded the role to a former MVP who hadn’t played the position regularly since high school in Mookie Betts. Rojas has had one of his finest seasons as a big leaguer at 35 years old.

Rojas is hitting more this year. And until Friday, when Rojas hits, it has corresponded with Dodgers victories. Through Rojas’ first 24 games this season with at least one hit, his team was unbeaten.

When the streak was snapped Friday night on Brett Wisely’s walk-off homer, a new one began a day later.

The Dodgers hung on for 10 innings in a flub-filled afternoon Saturday at Oracle Park before the San Francisco Giants defense combusted as part of a seven-run Dodgers 11th inning. By day’s end, the effort — which required every arm in the Dodgers bullpen — almost required Rojas to pitch the final frame to try to close it out.

“I was telling (pitching coach Mark Prior), give me the ball,” Rojas deadpanned postgame. He’s done most everything else necessary this year, ceding his starting role into being something of a utilityman for this star-laden club.

Rojas ended the day with three hits and four runs batted in. If the season ended Saturday, his .297 average and .790 OPS would mark career highs over a full season. His production has been as remarkable as it has been necessary. Especially now.

As it stands, he is the Dodgers’ ideal shortstop. With Betts on the mend with a broken hand, Rojas has once again stepped in. His sterling defensive reputation remains untainted. He’s hitting.

And yet, the Dodgers are proceeding with caution.

“I can’t say enough about Miggy Ro,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I’m pushing him a little bit as far as playing time, but he’s coming up big.”

So as Rojas hobbled from the training room and past his manager’s office, Roberts stopped the veteran and told him he’d have Sunday off rather than start for the sixth time in seven days and 10th time in 12 games since Betts broke his hand. Rojas agreed.

“I need to recharge my batteries because I’m a player that plays all out, every single day and I feel like I empty the tank,” Rojas said. “I need to refuel.”

Rojas’ production wasn’t the reason the Dodgers bypassed him as their everyday shortstop to open this season. As much as flipping Betts and Gavin Lux in the middle infield boosted their lineup on paper, it also gave the Dodgers an opportunity to try to keep Rojas’ legs under him. The toll of time has taxed him. He missed time with a hamstring strain last April. At different points, Roberts has noted Rojas has been dealing with lower-body ailments — the latest being some lower leg soreness earlier this month that led to another tweak in footwear and pregame and postgame treatment.

The track record of players lasting every day at shortstop into their mid-30s is short and complicated.

“There’s no exact science” of keeping Rojas fresh, Roberts said. “But I think that he’s so valuable for us going forward that to make sure we keep him fresh, is what’s most important. And that’s what my mindset will be.”

Rojas has played well, and the Dodgers want to keep it that way. For as much as they are committed to a plan that has Betts returning and being their shortstop in October, a healthy Rojas is a strong backup plan.

With close to a month remaining until the trade deadline, it’s not as if there is a bounty of proven options out there. Toronto’s Bo Bichette is the most notable player at the position whose name has appeared in trade rumors this summer, and he’s in the midst of a career-worst year. The collection of mediocrity across the sport has muddied who is and isn’t going to sell.

Rojas, for his part, has produced enough for the Dodgers to not miss much of a beat in Betts’ absence. His bat is there. His defense “is a game-changer,” Roberts said.

“Mookie was doing the best he could given the circumstance,” he added. “But Miggy is an 80 (grade) defender.”

There doesn’t appear to be a set schedule to keep it that way, at least for now. Rojas has been a part-time player much of this season and has considered this stretch something like a second spring training to get his body reacclimated.

“I’m just blessed for the opportunity to be playing shortstop for this organization,” Rojas said. “I was waiting for this opportunity. … I still think that I’m an everyday shortstop.”

Now, he’s got another shot.

(Photo: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

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