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Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger on schedule in return from shoulder surgery

Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger homers.
Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger homers during Game 7 of the NLCS in Arlington, Texas.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Cody Bellinger’s first game since the World Series was held on one of the backfields at Camelback Ranch on Wednesday. He was surrounded by non-roster invites and faced three pitchers destined for the minors this season. Dodgers front office executives watched from behind home plate. All eyes were on him.

The intrasquad game lasted five innings. He went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and a walk. The only ball he put in play — off right-hander Andre Jackson — resulted in a 4-6-3 double play. In the field, he made the routine plays in center field.

Most importantly, he didn’t appear hindered by his surgically repaired right shoulder and emerged unscathed. He took hearty hacks. So, it was a success.

About an hour later, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced Bellinger will make his 2021 Cactus League debut Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers. He is expected to start in center field but could serve as the designated hitter in other games.

“I saw him get off a lot of good swings and, for not seeing live pitching, [he’s] well ahead,” Roberts said. “So, really encouraged today from Cody.”

The Dodgers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-2 on Wednesday in a spring training game in Phoenix.

Bellinger underwent arthroscopic labrum surgery in November. He injured his right shoulder when he smashed forearms with Kiké Hernández in celebration of his go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves.

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Last month, Bellinger vowed that his forearm bashing days are over. He also said he reported to spring training ahead of schedule and was 100% sure he would be ready for opening day. The Dodgers, since the start of camp, had March 15 circled on the calendar for Bellinger’s debut. He’s on schedule.

Whether Bellinger returns to his MVP form is another matter. Bellinger batted .239 with 12 home runs and a .789 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 56 games last regular season. He then hit .212 with four home runs in 18 playoff games. In 2019, he rode a torrid start to the MVP, batting .305 with 47 home runs and a 1.035 OPS in 156 games.

Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger reacts.
Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger reacts during the World Series in Arlington, Texas.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

DODGERS DON’T NAME AN OPENING DAY STARTER . . . YET

For the second time in a week, Clayton Kershaw started the day before Trevor Bauer, perhaps suggesting the Dodgers will go in that order once the regular season begins.

But Roberts said Wednesday that isn’t necessarily the case. He indicated the club has decided on an opening day starter but declined to share the choice.

Walker Buehler, who is listed to start Saturday, is another option. Kershaw historically has been the choice, but he indicated a few days ago that starting the home opener April 9 might be more meaningful.

“Opening day is special — that’s an honor — but the home opener this year is very special,” Kershaw said March 5. “The first time at Dodger Stadium with fans after winning the World Series for the first time in 32 years.”

The left-hander was named the opening day starter twice in 2020 — in March before the COVID-19 pandemic forced Major League Baseball to shut down operations and in July before the 60-game season.

Ultimately, Kershaw didn’t start opening day. He was scratched hours before the game because of a back injury. Dustin May replaced him. It would’ve been his franchise-record ninth opening day start.

The Dodgers beat the Cincinnati Reds 5-3 on Tuesday night in a spring training game in Goodyear, Ariz.

GRATEROL TAKES STEP FORWARD

Brusdar Graterol logged his first bullpen session of spring training Wednesday. Roberts said the reliever threw only fastballs and topped out at 96 mph. He is expected to throw another bullpen in three days.

Graterol is behind schedule for unspecified reasons. Last week, Roberts insisted the hard-throwing right-hander should be ready for his usual one-inning role by opening day. Meanwhile, Joe Kelly, who has also been limited this spring, isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season.

The Dodgers acquired the 22-year-old Graterol from the Minnesota Twins last February. He became an important cog in their bullpen, posting a 3.09 ERA in 23 appearances last season.


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