The Los Angeles Dodgers should not anticipated to tender a contract to Cody Bellinger earlier than Friday’s deadline, making the 27-year-old former MVP a free agent.
Bellinger was set to make round $18 million in arbitration. While the Dodgers may nonetheless re-sign him to a lesser deal, simply getting thus far is a shocking growth for the 2017 National League Rookie of the Year and 2019 NL MVP whose previous few years in Los Angeles have trended within the unsuitable route.
Four seasons in the past at 23 years outdated, Bellinger launched 47 house runs with a 1.035 OPS to earn his second All-Star nod and his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards in an MVP season. While his efficiency fluctuated at instances early in his profession, it by no means dipped beneath league common. He mashed a minimum of 25 homers with an OPS+ of 120 or higher in every of his first three years within the majors and seemed to be one of many preeminent younger superstars within the sport.
Then got here the 2020 season.
Bellinger regarded like himself early that spring, slashing .324/.343/.588 throughout Cactus League play, earlier than the pandemic delayed the season. Upon return to play, he could not replicate his standard kind. He started swinging and chasing extra usually, and a relentless tweaking of his mechanics hindered any rhythm, although he nonetheless posted a 112 OPS+ whereas providing above-average protection at first base and within the outfield.
He additionally performed a pivotal position in serving to catapult the Dodgers to their first World Series championship in 32 years.
Bellinger hit 4 house runs throughout the 2020 postseason, one in all which was the decisive blast within the Dodgers’ National League Championship Series Game 7 comeback win in opposition to the Braves. After rounding the bases, Bellinger celebrated along with his teammates. A forearm bash with Kiké Hernández was a bit of too aggressive, inflicting Bellinger’s proper shoulder to dislocate. It was not the primary time Bellinger skilled the feeling along with his non-throwing shoulder, although the difficulty by no means prompted him to overlook vital time beforehand. He performed in all 162 video games in 2018, 156 video games in 2019 and 56 of 60 video games in 2020.
After the newest shoulder situation, he elected to get arthroscopic surgical procedure in November 2020. He was forward of schedule in his restoration, however as he constructed again energy in his shoulder one other setback loomed. Four video games into the 12 months, Bellinger was again on the shelf after struggling a hairline fracture in his leg. He later handled hamstring and rib accidents and completed the 2021 season with a .165/.240/.302 slash line in 95 video games.
“You kind of learn a little bit about yourself,” Bellinger beforehand mentioned. “You really, truly know how hard this game is, to never take anything for granted.”
His chase share climbed, his strikeout fee worsened and his mechanics have been in flux. Bellinger’s .542 OPS was the third-lowest of all main leaguers with a minimum of 300 plate appearances that season, however the Dodgers maintained their perception within the precocious slugger, and he rewarded them within the postseason. In an effort to make extra contact and catch as much as velocity, Bellinger widened his stance, lowered his fingers, flattened his bat path and simplified his swing.
“He was really just trying to put the bat on the ball,” hitting coach Brant Brown mentioned final October. “That’s something we talk about all year.”
If Bellinger may try this, ideally, his typical energy would comply with.
A extra compact swing helped Bellinger present the game-winning hit to topple the division-winning Giants in Game 5 of the 2021 NL Division Series. In the subsequent collection, an NLCS rematch in opposition to the Braves, Bellinger gave the Dodgers an opportunity. With his crew trailing 2-0 within the collection, Bellinger caught as much as a 96-mph fastball — one thing he hadn’t been in a position to do all 12 months — and despatched the providing from Luke Jackson out for a game-tying three-run house run in a 6-5 win.
The Dodgers could not mount one other 3-1 collection comeback in opposition to the Braves, however Bellinger’s standout postseason (.353/.436/.471) supplied a promising launching level for him to probably recapture his MVP kind for the 2022 season.
But one other uncommon offseason adopted.
This time, the lockout prevented gamers from understanding with groups. Upon his return, Bellinger mentioned he deliberate to maintain an analogous stance and strategy to the one which helped him succeed within the 2021 postseason. But these adjustments have been made largely to regulate for an injury-riddled marketing campaign and weren’t meant to be everlasting.
“I don’t think in baseball you ever have it figured out, you know what I mean?” Bellinger mentioned. “It’s always a game of adjustments.”
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Feeling more healthy in 2022, the tinkering continued. He could not get again on observe.
The Dodgers continued encouraging him to attempt to go the opposite far more usually. The objective was to discover a constant routine and course of, however there gave the impression to be a disconnect between how his swing regarded, what felt comfy to him and what made him succeed.
“He’s his own person,” Dodgers hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc mentioned earlier than the 2022 season. “If he comes up with a thought, he has the right to try that. It’s his swing, his career, and we’ve got to be there to help and support him, even if we don’t necessarily think that’s the right thing at that moment.”
Added Brown: “He’s really trying to navigate on what his feels are. Sometimes, we all know hitters’ feels will deceive them.”
Bellinger completed the 2022 season slashing .210/.265/.389 with 19 house runs whereas posting the bottom stroll fee and highest strikeout fee and chase share of his profession. Over the final three years, he’s tied for the bottom wRC+ (78) amongst all main leaguers with a minimum of 1,100 plate appearances.
His teammates recommended him for working by his points with out complaints or excuses.
“I just think about the guy more than anything,” Kershaw mentioned in April. “We all love Belli. We all see him grinding every day, good or bad, to try to figure it out. Coming off the shoulder surgery and all those things, that’s a challenge for anybody. He grinded through, didn’t say anything about it.”
Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. He beforehand was the Dodgers’ editor of digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.
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