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Commentary: Center field has been a tough learning curve for Dodgers’ Gavin Lux

On the 20th day of July, the Atlanta Braves had a losing record, Eddie Rosario was the left fielder for the Cleveland Indians, and Gavin Lux was a middle infielder in the Dodgers’ organization.

On the 20th day of October, the Braves moved within one game of the World Series, with Rosario hitting two home runs in a 9-2 rout of the Dodgers. After the game, as a small band of fans behind the visiting dugout chanted “Ed-die, Ed-die,” the Dodgers’ center fielder chatted with two friends on the field.

That center fielder would be Lux, in the second month of a crash course at a new position. Life comes at you fast.

“If you would have told me a couple months ago that I’d be playing in the outfield in the playoffs,” Lux said, “I’d have said you were crazy.”

The Dodgers failed on multiple fronts Wednesday. On an evening the Braves were forced into a bullpen game, the Dodgers managed four hits. Their struggles with runners in scoring position did not surface, because they only got two runners into scoring position. They are batting .219 in this National League Championship Series.

Yet the defining image of Wednesday’s game will be this one: After Lux played a sinking line drive on a short hop, pitcher Julio Urías showed him up, raising both palms to the sky and staring at him.

Urías had given up three home runs by then. It was the third inning.

The frustration was understandable, even if the expression was unnecessary. The Dodgers were on the verge of elimination. For the second consecutive day, Lux was exposed as a center fielder learning on the job.

“Pretty inexperienced, still,” Lux said. “A lot of stuff still pops up. Just talking to Mookie [Betts], there’s some things you only learn doing it in the game. There is only so much you can replicate in practice.

“Still learning a lot out there on the fly. Looking at it as a challenge.”

On Tuesday, Lux raced into right-center field and toward the wall, catching up to a deep drive, only to have the ball glance off his glove. The error unlocked the floodgates to a four-run inning.

Walker Buehler, the Dodgers’ pitcher at the time, said he had no doubt Lux would learn from the play.

“It just so happens that it happens at this time of year and everyone’s going to be watching it,” Buehler said. “Gavin’s confident enough and talented enough to handle that kind of stuff.”

Dave Roberts, the Dodgers’ manager, went up to Lux later in the game, told him not to become too cautious in the field, and let him know he would be back in center field Wednesday. Lux gave Roberts a fist bump.

On Wednesday, the Braves had runners on first and third when Lux pulled up on that sinking line drive, deciding not to risk the ball skidding by him for an extra-base hit. The Braves scored a run, but they might have scored two if Lux dove and missed.

“In hindsight, I probably should have just dove for it,” he said. “That’s another thing to just learn on the fly.”

There was no error charged on the play. There really is no error in playing Lux in center field, as it is more the result of a series of unfortunate circumstances than an actual game plan.

On Sept. 5, Lux made his minor league debut as an outfielder, in center field. On Sept. 9, he played left field for the first time. The next day, the Dodgers called him up and started him in left field.

On Sept. 13, in his fourth game as a major league outfielder, he ran into Cody Bellinger and broke one of Bellinger’s ribs.

If Max Muncy had not gotten hurt on the last day of the regular season, Muncy would be at first base, and Bellinger would be in center field.

If Matt Beaty had hit when the Dodgers gave him the first shot to replace Muncy, Beaty would be at first base, and Bellinger would be in center field.

And, before turning to Lux this postseason, the Dodgers tried alignments with Chris Taylor in center field.

For Lux, the Dodgers’ first pick in a productive 2016 draft, the road to Dodger Stadium has been rocky.

The second pick of that draft, Will Smith, is entrenched as the Dodgers’ catcher. Dustin May had emerged as one of the league’s brightest young starters before he underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this year. Tony Gonsolin started twice in last year’s World Series.

The ability Lux has shown in the outfield, and his willingness to embrace a new position in the heat of a pennant race, has opened the Dodgers’ eyes.

The Dodgers twice have given him the starting job at second base, and twice he has given it back. Now, ahead of a winter in which Taylor can leave as a free agent, Lux has shown a knack for following in Taylor’s career footsteps: join the Dodgers as a shortstop, develop into an everyday player in which every day might bring a different position.

“That’s a compliment,” Roberts said, “a huge compliment.”

For Lux, the future is bright. But the Dodgers face elimination Thursday, and Roberts said Bellinger would be in center field.



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