LOS ANGELES — Cody Bellinger won’t be matching his MVP totals of 47 home runs and 115 RBIs from 2019 this season. And he almost certainly will fall well short of his Rookie of the Year numbers when he hit 39 homers and drove in 97 runs.
In fact, after a slow start hindered even further by two separate trips to the injured list with leg injuries, Bellinger will have to pick up the pace in the second half of the season to match his averages of a .911 OPS and 141 OPS-plus from his first four big-league seasons.
But Bellinger said all the right things about not worrying about that when he returned from his hamstring injury earlier this week.
“For me, honestly, I’m so over the numbers aspect,” he said during the series in San Diego. “So for me personally, it’s just helping this team win any way I can, doing the little things right. Just playing the game of baseball. I’m a pretty good baseball player. Just doing the all-around things. That’s what I’m looking forward to. And just having fun with it – because it’s not fun watching.”
That attitude shows a level of maturity for a player who will turn 26 next month, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
“I think he’s handling it extremely well and understands that his four at-bats a night is something that is certainly of value. But so’s the defense,” Roberts said Saturday. “We have a lot of good players around him. You can’t get it all back in one night or one week. I think as he matures as a big-league ballplayer he’s realized that. You certainly do look at the stat sheet and the scoreboard, but there’s just still a lot of baseball. We could look out here in a week and he puts together a good week and all the stat lines line up.
“My encouragement to him is just go out there and play every pitch by itself – offensively, defensively – and the numbers will be there and we’ll win a lot of games because of that.”
The tendency to measure your value by the numbers on the stat sheet is natural for a young player, Roberts said.
“I do think that was something that occupied his mind. Any young player that thinks otherwise I just don’t think is honest with himself,” Roberts said. “Numbers do matter. I think the more you play this game and you realize that if you’re consistent with your process and your work, the numbers will ultimately be there. But until you live it year in and year out, it’s hard to trust that. I think all players are guilty of that especially young players.”
Roberts did not have Bellinger in the starting lineup Saturday, giving him a break after playing three consecutive games following his activation from the IL. Bellinger was 1 for 7 in those three games but with five walks.
“I see plus-defense out there,” Roberts said. “He’s playing every pitch defensively. He’s made our overall defense better. I see good intent in the box. He’s staying in the strike zone, taking walks when given. Now it’s just when he gets pitches in the strike zone, trying to move them forward. Part of it is staying in the strike zone and then it’s moving them forward. I expect him to get better.”
The Dodgers have a new reliever in their bullpen – Joseph Kelly.
Roberts joked that the veteran right-hander came up with the name for “his alter ego.” Joe Kelly is the inconsistent reliever who occasionally has bouts of wildness. Joseph Kelly is the one who throws strikes.
“I joke with him all the time about it,” Roberts said. “I like Joseph.”
Joseph Kelly has shown up a lot recently. In his first seven appearances this season after missing the first five weeks of the season recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Kelly gave up seven runs on nine hits in 6-1/3 innings. In 10 appearances since then, however, Kelly has held opposing batters to a .152 average (5 for 33) with 11 strikeouts in 9-2/3 innings.
“I think it was maybe the outing when he came in and gave up a homer on a breaking ball to right-center. But he was still throwing strikes,” Roberts said of when he saw the turnaround. “I think his next one he gave up a homer on a breaking ball. From that point on, the strike-throwing, the command of all three pitches has been really good.”
For most of the past two seasons, Austin Barnes has caught nearly every game started by Clayton Kershaw. But going into Kershaw’s start Sunday, Will Smith has been behind the plate for two of Kershaw’s past three starts.
“That injury with Austin in Atlanta with the ankle just kind of brought it to light in the sense that, if something does happen to one of our guys, we have to make the catching-pitching batteries interchangeable because obviously the season is unpredictable and we have to make guys as comfortable throwing to both catchers as we can,” Roberts said.
In 12 innings with Smith behind the plate this season, Kershaw has a 2.25 ERA and a .156 average against. In 82-1/3 innings throwing to Barnes, his ERA is 3.61 with a .228 average against.
Cubs (RHP Adbert Alzolay, 4-6, 4.19 ERA) at Dodgers (LHP Clayton Kershaw, 8-7, 3.43 ERA), Sunday, 4 p.m., ESPN, 570 AM