Commentary: Dodgers have big hopes for Cody Bellinger, but how much ‘runway’ is left?

Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger bats against the Rockies.
Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger bats in the seventh inning of a 5-3 season-opening win over the Colorado Rockies on Friday.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

For the Dodgers, at least, the lockout was worth it. Over the three months in which teams were forbidden from contacting players, Freddie Freeman and the Atlanta Braves drifted so far apart that the Dodgers could do in March what was unthinkable in November: swoop in and sign him.

And, once the lockout was lifted and a new collective bargaining agreement was in place, the Dodgers could get on with their new life, as a National League team that employed a designated hitter.

If their pitcher had to hit Friday, opening day might not have been such a hit for the Dodgers. If the Dodgers had not won, the fans might be focused on the performance of Cody Bellinger.


No one in uniform makes a big deal out of Game 1, not with 161 to play. Blips abound, all around the division.

The Dodgers had a five-run fourth inning, Walker Buehler made a solid start, and L.A. won its season opener 5-3 over the Colorado Rockies on Friday.

The Dodgers won their season opener 5-3 when their new closer, Craig Kimbrel, held off the Colorado Rockies. Kimbrel was not super sharp, but he got the job done.

The San Diego Padres lost their season opener because their new closer, Taylor Rogers, was acquired in the morning and was not available to pitch in the evening, and two other pitchers coughed up a lead to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The San Francisco Giants won their opener, but only after their closer, Camilo Doval, failed to hold a lead against the Miami Marlins.

This was the fifth consecutive opening day start for Bellinger, each time in a new spot in the batting order. He batted fifth in 2018, sixth in 2019, third in 2020, and fourth in 2021. On Friday, he batted eighth, in recognition that last summer was a mighty struggle and this spring was no better.

In the fourth inning, the Dodgers had runners on second and third, with one out. Bellinger fouled out to the catcher.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts watches from the dugout.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts watches from the dugout during the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies on Friday.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

In 2021, the next batter would have been Walker Buehler, the pitcher, and that probably would have been the end of the inning.

In 2022, however, the next batter was Gavin Lux, who singled home both runs. The Dodgers scored three more times in the inning — and they did not score in any other inning Friday.

Bellinger batted .165 last season, with a .542 OPS. Of the 132 NL players with at least 300 plate appearances, he ranked 131st. He also started the season late as he recovered from shoulder surgery, and he spent time on the injured list because of calf, hamstring and rib injuries.

He batted .139 this spring, with no extra-base hits and 18 strikeouts in 36 at-bats. On Friday, he went hitless in four at-bats.

“I don’t think there’s any carryover from spring training,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I do think all hitters want to get off to a good start.

“I’m not reading anything into it. All I know is that he is healthy, and I’m expecting him to have a good year, and to help us win a lot of baseball games.”

The Dodgers are happy to have Kimbrel, but they weakened their outfield depth by trading AJ Pollock to get him.

When the Dodgers unveiled their opening day roster, they listed two outfielders: Bellinger and Mookie Betts. Lux and Chris Taylor were listed under “infielder/outfielder.”

The depth chart on the Dodgers’ website lists Taylor and Betts as the backups for Bellinger in center, Lux as the backup for Taylor in left, and Zack McKinstry as the backup for Betts in right. McKinstry is at triple-A Oklahoma City, where the Dodgers so far have played him at second base and shortstop.

Dodgers play-by-play TV broadcaster Joe Davis will call the World Series beginning this season, replacing Joe Buck.

Kevin Pillar also is at Oklahoma City, and he would be the most experienced hand should the Dodgers want to give someone else a shot in center field.

But they do not, or at least they are nowhere close to even considering such an option. On one hand, Bellinger is only three years removed from his MVP season, in which he hit .305 with 47 home runs and a 1.035 OPS.

On the other hand, Roberts suggested the Dodgers are so powerful on offense that they could carry Bellinger in their lineup for his defensive prowess alone. Bellinger won a Gold Glove in 2019.

The Dodgers have a 99% chance of making the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus. They have plenty of time to see if Bellinger can recover the lightning in his bat.

“He’s going to have a runway, which he has earned,” Roberts said. “I think it’s deserved. And, with what he does in center field, that alone warrants him being in the lineup for a team [with this offense].”

Bellinger will be back in the Dodgers’ lineup Saturday. The Rockies are starting a right-hander rather than a left-hander, so Roberts said he planned to move Bellinger up in the lineup. He’ll bat seventh.