Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger breaks out a new batting stance in his first spring game
Cody Bellinger’s first game since undergoing surgery on his right shoulder in November was, on the surface, uneventful.
The 2019 National League MVP started in center field and batted fifth for the Dodgers on Tuesday in their Cactus League meeting with the Milwaukee Brewers. Bellinger saw 17 pitches in three plate appearances. He took big swings and went 0 for 3 with a strikeout. He made the routine plays on defense. After the game, he said he felt good and was happy to play with his teammates again.
Bellinger’s 2021 debut was notable for another reason: The left-handed slugger unveiled a new stance. The difference was obvious and jarring. Bellinger was much more open with his front foot. His head was square to the mound. Up top, his bat was angled slightly farther down than last season.
Bellinger said he used the downtime after surgery to ponder his mechanics. He started using the stance when he was cleared to take swings last month. When asked if anyone approached him about making a change, Bellinger said “myself.”
“I’ve done it in the past,” Bellinger said. “Had success with it. To be honest, ultimately, I just feel really good with it.”
Clayton Kershaw gave up five runs in four innings in the Dodgers’ 7-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday in Phoenix.
This isn’t the first time Bellinger has changed his mechanics in the batter’s box. In his MVP season, he dropped his bat head, reverting to the stance of his rookie year in 2017. Last year, he constantly tinkered to find a rhythm during a frustrating season. Bellinger finished the regular season with a .239 batting average, 12 home runs, and a .789 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 56 games.
“Ideally, you want some guys to have one set stance and always feel comfortable, but that’s just not the case [with Bellinger],” manager Dave Roberts said. “So, we still have plenty of time to figure out where he wants to be when the season starts and it could change. That’s, again, that’s kind of how Cody’s feeling.”
Part of Bellinger’s struggles stemmed from pitchers’ success throwing him inside fastballs. Bellinger said that didn’t prompt him to make the adjustment.
“It was more about how I felt,” Bellinger said. “Nothing to where the pitchers attacked me. It’s all about comfort and I believe in it.”
It’s another layer in Bellinger’s return from a surgery that was needed after he bashed forearms with Kiké Hernández celebrating his go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. He has just over two weeks to smooth out the kinks before opening day. For now, he’s comfortable and confident.
KERSHAW ‘EXCITED’ FOR OPENING DAY START
Clayton Kershaw, to nobody’s surprise, was named the Dodgers’ opening day starter Sunday. Scheduled for April 1 against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field, it will be his franchise-record ninth opening day start after missing the last two opening days with injuries.
“It is just one game of 162, but it’s a special thing with the guys who have done it in the past with the Dodgers,” Kershaw said after giving up five runs in four innings against the Brewers on Tuesday. “There’s a history behind it and what it means to start the baseball season, getting to be a part of that. So yeah, obviously very excited for April 1, and just hopefully it’s not in a blizzard.”
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GRATEROL SLOWLY PROGRESSING
Roberts on Monday said he “wouldn’t say the door’s closed” on Brusdar Graterol being ready for the start of the season, but he acknowledged that the reliever is running out of time.
Graterol last week threw off a mound for the first time, but still hasn’t faced hitters this spring. Roberts said “a lot of things” impeded Graterol from preparing properly for spring training, including “physical” issues, but he wouldn’t elaborate beyond disclosing that the problems weren’t orthopedic.
“The last thing we want to do is speed him up when he’s not ready,” Roberts said. “So, I think that his throwing progression, he’s progressing very well, but I do think that as a one-inning guy, one-plus, there’s still an opportunity [to be ready]. But the main thing is that we just want him to be healthy and progress the right way.”
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