PHOENIX — Dodgers manager Dave Roberts didn’t blink when asked about his reigning National League MVP on Friday night.
Yes, Cody Bellinger had started the season five for 36 (.139 average) at the plate. Yes, he’d gone 16 consecutive at-bats without a hit. And yes, he flew out softly to left to end Friday’s 5-3 loss against the Diamondbacks, stranding the tying runs at second and third.
But, no, Roberts wasn’t worried about the star center fielder or his ice-cold opening week.
“It’s one of those things where, it’s speeding up a little bit,” Roberts said. “You start looking at the scoreboard. You want to help your club and contribute, which he’s been doing a great job on defense. But I think that at bat, you start seeing a little bit [of him] going out of the zone and trying a little bit too hard. Even some of those borderline pitches, when you’re not going well, they always seem to go against you. But he’ll be fine.”
Nonetheless, Roberts gave Bellinger the day off Saturday, taking the left-handed slugger out of the lineup for the first time this season with the Dodgers set to face Diamondbacks right-hander Luke Weaver in the third of a four-game series at Chase Field.
“The contact rate is still good; the angle trajectory is not where we want it to be,” Roberts during a Saturday pregame Zoom call said of Bellinger, who spent training camp working on swing changes he hoped would prevent the kind of offensive regression he battled over the second half of 2019.
The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw has recovered quickly from back stiffness and is slated to make the start in Sunday’s series finale with the Diamondbacks.
After hitting .336 with 30 home runs, 71 RBI and a 1.124 on-base-plus-slugging percentage prior to the All-Star break last summer, Bellinger’s second-half numbers dipped: .263 batting average, 17 home runs, 44 RBI and .917 on-base-plus-slugging in his final 68 games.
“Cody was very confident in the way he came to summer camp,” Roberts said. “For me, it was just wanting to support him and expect good things to happen.”
Instead, Bellinger has just one extra-base hit and twice as many strikeouts (six) as walks (three).
“I don’t think he looks completely comfortable, he’s still trying to figure things out,” Roberts said. “It’s one of those things that’s more magnified right now. He’ll work through it. Hopefully, he takes a day to ease his mind and get some work in.”
Bellinger’s absence was one of several lineup changes Saturday. AJ Pollock replaced Bellinger in center field. Third baseman Justin Turner was moved to designated hitter, with Edwin Ríos fillinghis spot in the infield. Matt Beaty was inserted at first with Max Muncy sliding over to second.
Left-hander Julio Urías takes the mound for the second time this season after a five-inning, one-run start against the San Francisco Giants last week.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has spoken with union leader Tony Clark about the importance of players following the league’s coronavirus protocols.
Roberts said Bellinger should be back in the lineup for Sunday’s series finale and maintained confidence that the two-time All-Star will be able to rediscover his 2019 form.
“In the initial summer camp, [his swing change] was more drastic,” Roberts said. “I think over the last five to seven days, he’s trying to go back to what he did last year. Optically, it looks similar, but the production just doesn’t happen quite that easy.
“I do think as he gets more comfortable with that stance and his swing, the mechanics, he’ll get back to more production.”
1. Max Muncy — Second base
2. Mookie Betts — Right field
3. Corey Seager — Shortstop
4. Justin Turner — Designated Hitter
5. Joc Pederson — Left field
6. AJ Pollock - Center field
7. Edwin Ríos — Third base
8. Will Smith — Catcher
9. Matt Beaty - First Base
Julio Urías — Starting pitcher