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Cody Bellinger eager to return and end slump with a refined swing

Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger warms up during a baseball game.
Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger, who has been dealing with pain in his ribs, is hoping to come off the injured list Tuesday.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Cody Bellinger has a new haircut and, he hopes, a more refined swing.

Now, he’s just waiting on his ribs to heal enough to showcase them in game action.

Out since Sep. 17 with a fractured left rib, Bellinger made an encouraging step in his recovery process on Saturday by going through several rounds of pregame batting practice and catching fly balls in the outfield.

Afterward, Bellinger said the pain in his ribs — which he hurt after colliding with teammate Gavin Lux in the outfield during a game earlier this month — is becoming more tolerable and that he’s hopeful he can come off the injured list as soon as Tuesday, the first day he’ll be eligible to return to the active roster.

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“Today was very promising,” Bellinger said. “Swinging felt great. Throwing was the worst part [right after the injury happened] because of the motion where the rib was, and that actually felt pretty good today. So I would say I’m close.”

Clayton Kershaw struggles and the offense can’t keep up with the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 7-2 loss that puts the Dodgers two games behind of the Giants.

Manager Dave Roberts said the team hasn’t finalized a return date for Bellinger, and that they don’t want to rush him. Yet, Roberts remains “certain” Bellinger will be back before the end of the regular season.

“It’s progressing each day,” Roberts said. “It’s getting better.”

The sooner Bellinger gets back, the more time he’ll have to continue implementing swing changes he began making before getting hurt.

After struggling for most of the year — Bellinger currently has a .159 batting average this season with only nine home runs and 34 RBIs and 89 games — the former MVP said he tweaked his stance and lowered his hands in search of a smaller, more consistent swing motion.

“I won Rookie of the Year and the MVP with the hands up here,” Bellinger said, mimicking his old stance in which his hands started higher up next to his head. “But it came to a point where I was like, ‘All right, I’m on my pitch but I’m not hitting it. What’s going on? Let’s make an adjustment.’”

Bellinger added: “I feel shorter. I feel more compact. I felt good. Then, unfortunately I got hurt.”

Injuries have been a recurring theme for Bellinger over the last year, going back to a surgery he had on his right shoulder last November after injuring it in a celebration with Kiké Hernández in the National League Championship Series.

While Bellinger was ready for opening day, he said he didn’t have his normal strength after spending the winter rehabbing.

Two subsequent injured list stints earlier this season — one for a hairline fracture in his leg, and another due to hamstring tightness — didn’t help either.

“I haven’t ever dealt with injuries, really, in the past,” he said, adding: “It’s been a grind for sure. It’s not fun. But at the end of the day, I have confidence in myself, belief in myself. And with the adjustments and the time and all that stuff, I feel good. As bad as it’s been, I still feel really good and confident and excited. I’m in a good spot.”

Oh yeah, and about his new buzz cut: Bellinger said it was a spur of the moment decision he made this week while visiting his hometown barber back in Phoenix, deciding to get rid of the long shaggy hair he’s had for most of his big-league career.

Even when they don’t play their best, the resilient Dodgers find ways to win and stay on the heels of the San Francisco Giants for the NL West title.

“I sat down in the chair and I was like, ‘Just buzz it,’” Bellinger said. “This is what happened. I really like it.”

And did it have anything to do with a superstition at the plate?

“I mean, hey, it wasn’t me. It had to have been the hair,” Bellinger joked about his season-long slump. “But honestly, it was getting annoying. Now I feel fresh.”

In his hair, his swing and, increasingly, his left ribs too.


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