Sunday afternoon marked a career first for Mookie Betts who, after starting 220 games at second base, ventured into the outfield for a start in center.
It's a move dictated not by any defensive deficiency of Betts', but rather Boston's long-term roster situation. Since breaking out in 2013, the Red Sox and their fans alike have recognized that there was no place for Betts at second base in Fenway Park. Dustin Pedroia has that spot locked up, and isn't going anywhere anytime soon after signing a lengthy contract extension last year.
The question, then, has been where exactly he'll play? Betts was once a shortstop, but concerns over his arm moved him quickly to second base. That left a move back to short possible, but unlikely. The presence of Xander Bogaerts in the majors and both Deven Marrero and Garin Cecchini in the minors leaves the future infield awfully crowded. Given that and his aforementioned arm issues, the outfield has emerged as the clear destination for Betts, who has plenty of range even if the arm isn't ideal for center or tenable in right.
Given that, some fans have wondered why it's taken the Red Sox so long to pull the trigger. Marc Normandin explained last week that a big part of that delay was the team's faith that Betts could make the switch to the outfield. Another explanation, however, might be found at the plate.
The fact that Betts has made the move in the first game after having a record-tying 71-game on base streak snapped seems likely to be more than just a coincidence. With the difference between switching Betts today and switching him a month ago being relatively minimal, the Red Sox could afford to let him build up his historic streak as long as possible. There's no reason to think Betts is the sort of player who would blame a positional switch for breaking up his streak, or to think that he would hold any sort of resentment, but it was a positive gesture from the team that cost them absolutely nothing.
Betts recorded two outs in his first start in center field, with the only hit that ended up in his territory coming on the ground. It's going to take a lot more time before it's clear just how well he'll fit in the outfield, but at least for now, with Boston's left field a mess and Shane Victorino only signed for one more season after 2014, his path to the majors is finally clear.