Cody Bellinger slumping again as he searches to rediscover his swing and MVP form

Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger bats against the Colorado Rockies in a spring training game.
The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger bats against the Colorado Rockies in a spring training game Thursday. In seven spring games, Bellinger has struck out in 14 of 19 at-bats.
(Matt York / Associated Press)
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Dave Roberts sounded like a professor teaching a class on the complexities of hitting.

The Dodgers’ manager used technical terms like “flexion,” “levers” and “barred out.” He dissected next-level batting nuances, from base width to hand placement to firing position at the start of each swing. He spent 10 minutes Saturday trying again to explain the continuing evolution of Cody Bellinger’s swing.

Roberts’ message to his uber-talented but ever-inconsistent center fielder, however, is much more simple.

“Be a good hitter first.”

It’s an objective Bellinger has struggled to achieve this spring, with time running short for him to snap a preseason slump — one that looks eerily similar to his career-worst performance last year — before the start of the regular season.


Albert Pujols, who played for the Dodgers last season after being released by the Angels, has agreed to a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.

March 28, 2022

In seven Cactus League games, the 2019 National League MVP has struck out in 14 of 19 at-bats. Of his three hits, none have gone for extra bases. And even after finding success in the playoffs last season, he is trying to remake his swing again, hoping to find a “happy medium” between the player he used to be and the one he is now.

“Believe it or not, I’m actually feeling a lot better than the results are saying,” Bellinger said Sunday, answering another round of familiar questions about his struggles at the plate. “That’s real. That’s what spring training is about, obviously. You don’t want to do what I’m doing, but I feel better than what the stat sheets are showing.”

Alarm bells aren’t ringing yet. It’s still March, and Roberts believes Bellinger’s timing is the problem more than anything else. For now, his role as the team’s everyday center fielder remains safe. And the hope is that, with more at-bats, he will grow more comfortable with his newest iteration of mechanics at the plate.

But even Roberts acknowledged that Bellinger, who struck out in all four of his at-bats in a Saturday night game against the Kansas City Royals, could benefit from better results right now.

Until then, the Dodgers can only hope his spring slump doesn’t stretch into the regular season.

“The performance is up to Cody,” Roberts said. “It’s our job as coaches to create an environment and the work to allow him to succeed. But at the end of the day, he’s the one in the batter’s box. He knows that, and he’s got to produce. He’s a big part of what we want to do this year. He’s a big part of it, and he knows that.”



Cody Bellinger waits his turn during batting practice at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix on March 13.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

“Change something up and see if you get a feel. If you go 0 for 4, you go 0 for 4. You’ve been 0 for 4 a lot this year.”

— Clay Bellinger, on the advice he gave his son, Cody, last season

Clay Bellinger watched his son’s struggles build last year.

A former major leaguer himself, Clay knows better than most the roller coaster that baseball can be. Bellinger’s 2021 season, however, was more like a bungee jump, plummeting down, down, down until rebounding at the very end.

“He was frustrated to say the least,” Clay said. “Injuries were the No. 1 problem. … And then obviously, thinking you’re decent, and then whether or not your body’s not 100%, you’re overcompensating — you hear it all the time. I don’t think he’ll ever admit to that. But just a horrible year. And he understands it.”


Injuries indeed played a factor. Bellinger had a shoulder procedure before last season, the result of his celebratory arm bang with then-teammate Kiké Hernández the postseason before. An early season leg fracture further derailed his rhythm.

This spring, there are signs that Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, 34, might be scripting a different outcome for the elusive changeup.

March 26, 2022

But even when he returned to the lineup in late May, the big looping motion he has used since his Little League days wasn’t working. He posted some of the worst numbers of any starting player in the majors. He finished the season with a 45 OPS+, 55% below league average in the all-encompassing advanced metric.

“His swing has always been one where, it’s unique,” Clay said. “He’s got to be on time and right a lot of the time. It just wasn’t like that last year, for some reason.”

Clay, like many other observers of Bellinger’s season, came to the same conclusion.

“I just told him: ‘Dude, change something up. It can’t get any worse,’ ” he said. “‘Change something up and see if you get a feel. If you go 0 for 4, you go 0 for 4. You’ve been 0 for 4 a lot this year.’”

Cody Bellinger, left, and Gavin Lux walk to batting practice March 13.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

“I’m feeling more comfortable where I’ve had a lot of success in the past. It’s all about finding that approach and like I said, I feel closer than what it looks.”

— Cody Bellinger, on finding success at the plate


The adjustments finally came in early September, with Bellinger simplifying his swing. He dropped his hands. He shortened his stroke. He refined his approach too, cutting down on strikeouts and stringing together more competitive at-bats.

The results showed in the postseason. Though he didn’t have as much power as usual, Bellinger became one of the Dodgers’ most consistent hitters, batting .353 with seven RBIs and a .906 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

“He made an easier swing,” Clay said. “And he started feeling comfortable with it.”

So how come Bellinger is tweaking with his swing again this spring?

Bellinger and Roberts trotted out the same line, claiming they hope it can help him rediscover his form of old, when he was one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball and won MVP honors

Roberts described Bellinger’s approach in the playoffs last year as “survival and compete mode,” acknowledging the left-handed slugger was sacrificing power for contact as he continued to rebuild strength in his shoulder.

Bellinger echoed similar sentiments, explaining there is a “happy medium” he is trying to achieve as he gets healthy again.

“My shoulder and body are feeling stronger than they did in the postseason,” he said. “I’m feeling more comfortable where I’ve had a lot of success in the past. It’s all about finding that approach, and like I said, I feel closer than what it looks.”



Cody Bellinger warms up during a spring game against the Seattle Mariners on March 19.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

“I really do feel close. I feel very confident in what I’m doing.”

— Cody Bellinger, on rediscovering his MVP form

Bellinger didn’t look like a player mired in a slump Sunday.

Instead, he carried an upbeat attitude around the clubhouse, battling reliever Brusdar Graterol in a pingpong game, signing autographs for kids on the club’s family day and chopping it up with actor Rob Lowe, who was visiting the facility for the day.

Even while getting peppered by reporters about his spring training struggles, Bellinger’s mood didn’t dip.

He joked around, saying he’s simply trying to get his “punchies” (a.k.a. strikeouts) out of the way in March before games start to count. He laughed about how fatherhood — he had his first child over the offseason — has made him wiser. And he downplayed any frustration he might be feeling, noting that Roberts has assured him his place in the lineup remains safe.


“That helps the process a lot,” he said. “He’s got my back 100%, as do my teammates. I don’t take that lightly. … I’m still working every day to prove why I’m that guy. But with that, I’m really not focused on results right now and getting back to being who I’m going to be.”

A court filing says Trevor Bauer is engaging in a “witch hunt” against his accuser by pursuing an “unauthorized subpoena” for her phone records.

March 26, 2022

Who exactly Bellinger is, however, remains unclear.

Even he acknowledged, “I’m not who I was at 23,” when he locked up the MVP award during a blistering start to that season. But he doesn’t believe he’s the offensive liability he was for most of last season.

“I really do feel close,” he said. “I feel very confident in what I’m doing.”

Still, for a player who is making $17 million this season, who is expected to be a key cog in the Dodgers’ loaded lineup, and who was supposed to be one of their stars of the future, the clock is ticking to right his game again.

And lately, his performance is trending in the wrong direction.

The Dodgers' Cody Bellinger, left, and Tomás Telis wait their turn for batting practice March 13 at spring training.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Saturday’s four-strikeout fiasco heightened those concerns. Roberts called it “the first time I felt like things sped up on him,” and Bellinger admitted that by his last trip to the plate, he had gotten out of sorts.

On Sunday morning, Bellinger dropped by Roberts’ office to talk about the state of his game and his plan for the week.


The center fielder was already set to get Sunday’s game off, and Roberts told him he could decide whether he wants to get back into Cactus League games this week or get at-bats during simulated action on the back fields of the team’s spring training complex.

They talked about Bellinger’s mindset too and the need to balance his mechanical tweaks with a consistent approach.

Then, before Bellinger left, Roberts reminded him again of his overarching message: Be a good hitter first.

As Roberts recalled, Bellinger smiled and responded: “I’m glad it’s spring training.”

It won’t be for much longer.