At some point, the Boston Red Sox will have to promote leadoff hitter Mookie Betts. But until that phone rings, the second baseman is happy to terrorize his Eastern League foes.
Boston's No. 5 prospect went 3-for-4 with a three-run homer and two runs scored to raise his average to a Minor League-best .422 as the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs routed the Reading Fightin Phils, 10-2.
"I think I have a personal drive to want to succeed in baseball and in life in general," Betts said. "I have something inside me that pushes me. I'm not saying I'm going to be a great player, but the players that are internally motivated are the guys who climb the ladder.
"Everybody in pro ball can be strong through 20 games and hit .400 or .500. But it's not easy at all. I could be hot or I could just be playing the game the right way."
Betts has dominated through 21 appearances this season. He had a 15-game hit streak to start the year and has reached base in every outing so far. A fifth-round Draft pick in 2011, Betts has 12 multi-hit games (including four with at least three hits) and he ranks first in the Eastern League with 38 hits, 15 extra-base hits, 62 total bases and 29 runs scored. Betts is also second with 10 stolen bases.
"It's fun being a part of this team," the 21-year-old said. "We have a great group of guys that love being around each other and that helps you relax and enjoy everything. No matter if you're winning 10-0 or losing 10-0, you're having fun. You want to stay focused on the game, but not so much that it always feels like a job.
"[Pitcher] Henry Owens is a goofball and [catchers] Matt Spring and Michael Brenly keep you on your toes all the time. If you strike out or get out, they will have something to say to you to make you laugh."
Betts hasn't made too many outs and he's struck out just eight times while walking 10 times in 86 at-bats. He's been spraying the ball to all fields and he showed off his power Tuesday night with a fourth-inning homer, his fourth of the season.
"I swung at good pitches," Betts said. "That was the main part. I had pretty good pitch selection which helped. [Reading reliever Ryan O'Sullivan] threw me two sliders, one for a strike and one for a ball, and then a fastball that I just happened to connect with.
"At all times I'm sitting on the fastball. My goal is to not get beat with a fastball because that's my best pitch to hit. I sit on the fastball and react to the breaking ball."
But as hot as the Tennessee native remained, he was almost upstaged Tuesday by Portland starter Keith Couch (4-0).
The right-hander retired the first 17 batters he faced before Edgar Duran broke up his no-hitter with a two-out single to center field in the sixth.
"Honestly, I was just in attack mode all night," the 24-year-old Adelphi University product said. "I had all three of my pitches working for me and I threw all three for strikes. Early on, I established the two-seam fastball to get a bunch of ground balls and then I had my changeup and slider for when I wanted to pitch backward later in the game.
"Probably my best start I've had this season. My last one in Binghamton [two runs on five hits and three walks over six innings], I struggled, but I was able to get through it. I wanted to prove to myself that that was a fluke."
The Phils got on the board against Couch in the following frame. Carlos Alonso and Cam Perkins singled, and Alonso crossed the plate on Brock Stassi's single. The right-hander plunked Aaron Altherr with a pitch and Chris Serritella singled in Perkins. Couch fanned Logan Moore and Anthony Hewitt before Portland went to its bullpen.
"I didn't really realize until after [Duran] got a hit and everybody started clapping," Couch said of losing the no-hit bid. "It was a changeup that was down and he slapped it back up the middle. These things happen."
For now, Couch continues to admire Betts like the rest of his teammates.
"Nobody knows why he's still here. He's a freak, man," the Long Island native said of Betts. "He should be in the big leagues. He has this electricity to his game. He's just crushing balls and getting on base and scoring runs."