The Dodgers gave out Cody Bellinger bobblehead dolls two weeks ago. If you got one, after Friday night’s 6-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates would be a good time to get out the doll and ask a few questions.
Hey, Cody, do you lead the National League in batting average? (Nods. He is batting .433.)
Hey, Cody, do you lead the league in home runs? (Nods, but in a tie with a Christian Yelich bobblehead.)
Hey, Cody, do you lead the league in hits, and on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, and on-base-plus-slugging percentage? (Nods, nods, nods, nods.)
Hey, Cody, do you rank among the top 10 in the league in stolen bases? (Nods.)
One last question: Even though a sane pitcher rarely throws a strike to Mike Trout, do you have a higher on-base percentage than he does? (Nods.)
It’s early. It’s April. We are all but contractually obligated to remind you of that. But, if you’re going to get off to a good start, why not make it the best start in baseball?
Bellinger went deep again Friday, with the first-inning two-run home run that put the Dodgers ahead for good against the Pirates.
In a surprisingly competitive NL West — and, yes, it’s early and it’s April — the Dodgers lead the Arizona Diamondbacks by one-half game and the San Diego Padres by one game. The Dodgers have the best record in the NL, followed in order by the St. Louis Cardinals, the Diamondbacks, and the Padres.
Bellinger was far from the only star for the Dodgers on Friday. Austin Barnes homered, doubled and drove in three runs. Justin Turner had three hits.
Hyun-Jin Ryu held the Pirates to two runs over seven innings, on 105 pitches. He struck out 10, for the first time since 2014. He topped 100 pitches for the first time since 2017. He walked none, and he hasn’t walked any of the 75 batters he has faced at Dodger Stadium this season.
For the season, Ryu is 3-1 with a 2.96 ERA, with two walks and 33 strikeouts.
Of all the Dodgers’ pitchers, manager Dave Roberts said, “I don’t think anybody has the feel that Hyun-Jin has.”
Ryu does not have the best stuff on the staff, but he can manipulate all of his pitches within not just the strike zone, but within the four quadrants of the strike zone.
“When he’s on his game plan, and he’s in sync as he was tonight, he matches up with anybody,” Roberts said.
In the second inning, when the Pirates had runners at second and third with one out, Ryu preserved what was a one-run lead by striking out Cole Tucker and getting Chris Archer to ground out.
The Dodgers routed Archer, a two-time All-Star, for six runs in four innings. His ERA rose from 2.74 to 4.33.
But Bellinger was the first star, setting the tone with his current apparent invincibility. He set a major league record for most total bases before May 1 — 89, breaking Chase Utley’s record of 85 — and four games remain in April.
“Pretty cool,” Bellinger said. “I didn’t know. They told me in the dugout once it happened.”
In the first inning Friday, after Turner hit a two-out single, Bellinger delivered his 13th home run of the season. It gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead, and it left the stadium at 107 mph.
He hit the ball almost as hard in his next at-bat, scorching a line drive at 103 mph. It went for a double play, but only because Pittsburgh first baseman Josh Bell might have risked decapitation had he not reacted immediately, caught it, and stepped on first to double off Turner.
In his third plate appearance, in the fifth inning, Bellinger walked. In his final plate appearance, in the seventh, he delivered an opposite-field single. And, to broaden the display of his skill set, he made a diving catch in right field, robbing Bell of a hit in the eighth inning.
Bellinger has maintained a batting average above .400 every day this month. After a hitless game last weekend lowered his average to .407, he has nine hits in 16 at-bats.
Bellinger said he has a better approach now than he did two years ago, when he was the unanimous selection as NL rookie of the year. Roberts said the offensive diversity he showed Friday — staying back on a changeup to hit a home run, taking a walk, poking an opposite-field single rather than pulling the pitch and popping it up — was a better barometer of Bellinger’s success than a .400 average.
“All these things lend themselves to consistency,” Roberts said. “I don’t think Cody’s concerned about the numbers. I’m not concerned.”