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NICK CAFARDO | ON BASEBALL

One concern about Mookie Betts playing second base: Manny Machado

Mookie Betts has played a total of 15 games at second base in the majors.
Mookie Betts has played a total of 15 games at second base in the majors.(stan grossfeld/globe staff)

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Milwaukee outfielder Christian Yelich, the likely MVP of the National League, called Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado a dirty player during the NLCS. That was after Machado kicked the foot of Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar as he ran down the line.

We know of Machado’s questionable conduct on the field from the time he spiked Dustin Pedroia at Camden Yards in April 2017 after the so-called “Chase Utley Rule” was in place to protect infielders from high, spike-first slides.

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Red Sox manager John Farrell objected to the slide that day, saying: “If the rule is in place to protect the middle infielder, then it didn’t work tonight. It was a late slide.”

Pedroia downplayed it, saying: “I’ve turned double plays in the big leagues for 11 years. It’s my job, and it’s not the first time I’ve been hit, and it won’t be the last. It’s baseball, man.”

Machado sidetracked questions about being a dirty player and his relationship with Pedroia.

“That’s old history,” Machado said. “I play hard for my ballclub and whatever uniform I put on. I’m going to bleed and die for that team. I run down the line and do what I can to win ballgames. That’s all we can control as baseball players.”

Asked if he’d talked to Pedroia, Machado said, “We’re not friends. I’ve never had a relationship with him. We have a relationship on the baseball field and have played against one another for many years. I’ve heard a lot of things about him — great person. On a personal relationship, I’m from Miami, he’s from Arizona.”

Anyway, Machado has a reputation, and now a significant player (Yelich) has called him out.

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So the topic has to be brought up. Would the Red Sox hold back playing Mookie Betts at second base in the World Series because of the possibility that Machado would slide into him and injure him? Whether the question is fair or unfair, Machado has made his own bed on this topic.

No team can enter a series afraid of one player’s antics, especially not in the World Series. The fact that Betts has been working out at second base with Pedroia shows that the Red Sox may not be concerned about (or perhaps haven’t thought about) the Machado factor.

Betts, of course, wouldn’t go into this blindly. He had been a second baseman for most of his young life. He played 14 games there for the Red Sox in 2014, when Pedroia was injured. He played six innings there against the Yankees Aug. 3 when the Sox were in a positional crunch.

But let’s face it, it’s been a while since a player came barreling down on him at second base. Now, as we know, he’s very quick, so he probably has enough athletic ability to get out of the way of a rampaging runner.

The ironic thing is that Machado recently said he’s not a hustling player, yet when he goes into second, he not only hustles but seems to try to destroy the fielder. It also seems a little odd for someone who plays shortstop, but apparently that’s the way Machado thinks.

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Manny Machado, then with the Orioles, grabs onto Dustin Pedroia after spiking the Red Sox second baseman in a 2017 game.
Manny Machado, then with the Orioles, grabs onto Dustin Pedroia after spiking the Red Sox second baseman in a 2017 game.(matt hazlett/Getty)

Machado has tremendous ability. It’s doubtful that the “dirty player” label Yelich laid on him will affect him much in his upcoming free agency. Machado can hit and he can play defense, which will be the ultimate factor in whether a team such as the Yankees, Phillies, or another lays out $300 million-plus for him this offseason.

But the immediate concern will be Betts’s safety.

Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, a former second baseman, downplayed the concern.

“The new rules are second baseman- and shortstop-friendly,” he said. “I have no doubt he can handle it well. Plus he has experience there from the minor leagues.

“I understand the fears based on the Pedroia incident, but in today’s game that is so unusual.”

After Utley wiped out Mets second baseman Ruben Tejada and broke his leg with an illegal slide in the 2015 NLDS, the rules were changed. Remy is correct that the rules protect the infielder more than ever, and while Machado was not disciplined for the slide into Pedroia, he was fined for the play involving Aguilar.

The Utley slide also occurred in the playoffs, a time when players go the extra mile and perhaps play with a bit more urgency. One never knows when a player will get a little too excited and break the rules.

Betts loves to play the infield. He still takes ground balls on a regular basis at both second and third base. Who knows whether he’ll wind up back there at some point in his career? In the meantime, he has become baseball’s best right fielder. That was on display during the ALCS, with one great attempt at catching the ball interfered with by a fan to rob Jose Altuve, a leaping catch at the same wall later in the game, and a great throw to gun down Tony Kemp trying to stretch a single into a double.

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Obviously, Betts’s safety is of highest concern because of how valuable he is to the Red Sox. And by putting him in the infield, you’re taking a two-time Gold Glover out of the outfield. But the Red Sox must play J.D. Martinez in right because there will be no DH in Los Angeles. They’ll still have a good outfield if Betts is at second with Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Martinez. But any outfield with Betts in it is better than one without it.

How the Red Sox fare in the first two games will probably affect their thinking. If they win both at Fenway, it’s unlikely you’ll see Betts in the infield in LA. If they split or are down, 2-0, they may feel a little desperation and try the move.

“I would guess that Machado would be on his best behavior in the World Series,” said an American League general manager. “After what he pulled in the NLCS, would he be that brazen as to go into second with a high slide intent on injuring the second baseman or shortstop?

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“Betts is such a great athlete that I don’t think the Red Sox would have much to worry about, but crazier things have happened.”


Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.