Can Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger repeat last year’s scorching 60-game start in 2020?
Cody Bellinger’s first 60 games last season were near-historic: a .370 batting average, 20 home runs, 54 RBIs and a 1.177 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
All of which made his final 60 games somewhat head-scratching: a .257 batting average, 13 home runs, 38 RBIs and an .890 OPS.
The 24-year-old outfielder still won the National League’s MVP Award, still became the top player on MLB’s second-winningest regular-season team and still emerged as one of baseball’s biggest stars.
But he recognized his game wasn’t a finished product either, his potentially masterful mold had yet to totally dry.
So, as he waited for baseball to begin during this summer’s pandemic-prompted shutdown, Bellinger worked on his swing and re-examined his approach, fine-tuning his five-tool skill set at the Dodgers’ spring training facility in Arizona.
Now, a week into the team’s preseason training camp at Dodger Stadium, “I feel really good,” Bellinger said during a Thursday video conference, his wavy brown hair long overdue for a trim after the three-month quarantine period. “It could be a blessing in the long run.”
Not to mention a nightmare for the rest of the league, especially if Bellinger replicates his start to 2019 during this slimmed-down 60-game season.
“That would be cool,” he said, chuckling at the absurdity of those early season numbers. “But that was the thing, figuring out why I was so good and then remembering the feeling but also not getting too caught up on last year.”
Bellinger didn’t make any major changes to a swing that produced a full-season 47 home runs and .305 batting average. But, “there’s always small things in your swing you realize [are] what make you good,” he said. “You just try to be as consistent with those as you can. I just had that extra time to work on it in a stress-free environment.”
Some days during the delay were tougher than others, especially as speculation swirled around whether the season would ever start. Bellinger wore a mask during his Camelback Ranch training sessions, working out in socially distanced groups with teammates Kiké Hernandez, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty.
But by the time he arrived in Los Angeles two weeks ago, Bellinger felt his late-2019 struggles — which extended into a four-for-19 postseason performance — were behind him.
“You’re always growing and you’re always evolving,” he said. “I feel really good at where I’m at this year.”
With no fans allowed into MLB games for the start of this season, perhaps fans could gather in the stadium parking lots and watch on a big screen.
And despite the uncertainty created by the coronavirus, he is looking forward to a season he expects to be both “weird” and “fun” — or, as he also described it, “a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
One of the many anomalies: Bellinger isn’t even sure how many home runs could lead MLB this season. When asked if he could eclipse teammate Alex Wood’s recently tweeted suggestion of 17, Bellinger smirked.
“That would be crazy,” he said. “I hope I’m that guy, but we’ll see.”
Pitcher Tony Gonsolin joined the Dodgers’ training camp, becoming the first of the team’s seven yet-to-report players to arrive after his undisclosed absence. “We expect him to be a guy [who goes deep into games], Roberts said. “So to get him back in camp and resume business as usual I think is a great thing.” … Bellinger said adjustments are being made to the new batter’s eye at Dodger Stadium, which some players have complained about. Roberts said the changes could include a more matte black paint color on the new center-field structure that was part of the stadium’s offseason renovations, as well as a modification to the seating portion of the backdrop.
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