Cody Bellinger burst through the doorway of the visitors clubhouse at AT&T Park and veered to his left. He stutter-stepped in that direction before he realized his error. The route to the diamond had been in front of him the entire time.
“I have no idea where I’m going,” Bellinger joked to a camera crew documenting his first official day as a Dodger, a 2-1 victory over the Giants on Tuesday. His baseball team can relate to feeling adrift. Favored to cruise toward a fifth consecutive National League West title, the Dodgers have staggered through April, unable to find rhythm on offense or consistency from the starting rotation.
A slew of injuries has not helped the cause. When Joc Pederson strained his groin in Arizona on Sunday, a door opened for Bellinger. He was one for three and reached base on an intentional walk in his debut. His principal role was manning left field for Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw (4-1) pitched through a brief scare involving his right leg to log seven innings of one-run baseball. He struck out seven and scattered six hits. The Giants did not reach second base against Kershaw after the third inning. Kenley Jansen secured the victory with a four-out save.
Kershaw ended the night with a bruise on his calf after getting drilled in the first inning by a ball hit by outfielder Hunter Pence. The training staff iced and wrapped his leg after the game. Manager Dave Roberts described the effort as “courageous.”
“He’s the best in the game, no doubt,” Bellinger said. “I got to witness it firsthand.”
In diagramming their plan for 2017, the Dodgers did not intend to promote Bellinger in the season’s first month. The dominoes started to fall in March, when Andre Ethier herniated a disk in his back. Logan Forsythe broke his toe last week. Pederson will be sidelined for 10 days with his injured groin.
The injuries accelerated Bellinger’s arrival. With a slew of right-handed pitchers on the upcoming schedule, the team needed left-handed bats. Few hitters in the organization tantalize like Bellinger, who had hit .343 with five home runs in 18 games for triple-A Oklahoma City.
“I wanted it to be as soon as possible, but I didn’t really expect it,” Bellinger said. “I’m ready for the task at hand. We’ll see where it goes.”
Bellinger is not a stranger among these Dodgers. He spent spring training with the major league team these last two years. Upon his arrival, he sought the advice of former top prospects like Corey Seager and Pederson.
“I think he was just trying to find out what to do,” Seager said. “It’s about just trying to calm down, and be in the moment, and not try and be this big prospect. Just be him, really. He doesn’t need to do anything else.”
The players told Bellinger to savor his first at-bat. Take a few extra moments in the box, they told him. Take a look around the stadium. Bellinger listened — until starter Ty Blach made his first pitch. Bellinger got jammed on a popup to shortstop to begin the third inning.
The next batter was Kershaw. He chopped into a groundout, but limped as he jogged to first base. Roberts consulted in the dugout with Kershaw, who shooed him away.
Back on the mound in the bottom of the inning, Kershaw fell victim to his newest nemesis: Blach, who lifted a chest-high fastball over the head of center fielder Enrique Hernandez for a leadoff double.
Pence reached on an infield single that second baseman Chris Taylor failed to charge. Kershaw struck out the next two batters, only to give up a run when a two-out single by first baseman Buster Posey.
“My stuff wasn’t great,” Kershaw said. “I just kind of had to grind through it.”
The Dodgers lineup managed to dent Blach in the fourth. Seager walked and Justin Turner singled. Yasiel Puig tied the score with a single up the middle. Turner advanced to third base.
The night before, Turner had excoriated himself after getting picked off second base to end the game. The mistake did not lessen his aggression Tuesday. When Adrian Gonzalez rolled a grounder to first base, Turner waited until Posey flung the ball to shortstop Brandon Crawford for one out. Turner broke home and crossed the plate safely when Crawford’s throw bounced past catcher Nick Hundley.
In the ninth, Bellinger found a moment to savor. Up 3-0 in the count, he chopped a groundball to the left side of the infield. Sprinting to first, he managed to beat the throw for an infield single. It was the first hit of his career in the first game of his career, on a night when the Dodgers did not have to gnash their teeth with frustration.
Bellinger kept the baseball as a memento. He planned to give it to his mother.
“That’s not how I imagined it,” Bellinger said. “But I’ll take it.”
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes