Cody Bellinger’s hot start making it hard for Dodgers to send him back to OKC

Cody Bellinger (Photo: Stacie Wheeler)

Everyone seems to be talking about Cody Bellinger today, so I suppose I’ll chime in as well.

Bellinger is currently hitting .345/.406/.655 with a 175 wRC+ through his first eight games (32 plate appearances), and I don’t think anyone would have predicted that. His numbers are beefed up by a couple home runs and a triple he hit just last night, and the triple is what I want to talk about now.

Bellinger looked in control of that plate appearance against Matt Moore. The bases were loaded with no outs. It’d be easy to be antsy with a big opportunity and the Dodgers down 4-1 in the second inning, but he remained poised throughout the entire PA. Bellinger worked the count to 2-0 and unloaded on a fastball that was so far inside that there was no hitter on the planet who could have hit that ball fair with authority. That was the most out-of-control he was in that PA. Moore then threw a fastball on the outer-third of the plate. Instead of being focused on hitting the ball into the right-field pavilion, Bellinger showed a bit of maturity by hitting it 96 MPH down the left field line to clear the bases. It was a fantastic piece of hitting for any hitter, let alone a pull-happy 21-year-old.

Now, that’s not to say he isn’t capable of going the other way — he clearly is. But his game is elevating the ball to his pull side, and in his brief MLB tenure to date, that holds true: 40.9 FB%, 45.8 Pull%. His minor-league batted ball stats (recently added to his FanGraphs page) also support this.

With Joc Pederson due back on Friday, Bellinger is going to be the odd man out. The Dodgers are going to send their most prized hitting prospect back to Triple-A. Right?

I made the case a couple weeks ago to take it slowly with Bellinger, and that if they were going to bring him, that he play nearly every day. I also said he wasn’t going to do much for the Dodgers’ struggles against lefties. Well, he has played in every game since his debut and, in an extremely small sample size, is hitting .250/.333/.500 with a 119 wRC+ against southpaws in all of nine plate appearances. Statistics aside, he isn’t looking particularly overmatched against lefties (or any pitchers, aside from Johnny Cueto in his second game).

The biggest reason why sending him back to Oklahoma City makes sense is because there’s simply no room for him. Andrew Toles is hitting at around league-average and is playing solid defense, so he’s safe. Franklin Gutierrez just came back and is one of the better hitter against lefties on the team, so he’s also safe. The other bench players are either the backup catcher or backup infielders, none of whom Bellinger would displace.

That leaves Adrian Gonzalez, who has struggled mightily this season. The easy move would be to put him on the disabled list for the first time in his career and continue to have Bellinger on the 25-man roster, manning first base. As of yesterday, Dave Roberts had not discussed the possibility of Gonzalez going on the DL with Adrian. That could change by Friday, but it doesn’t seem terribly likely right now.

——

Everyone loves the shiny new toy. Bellinger is just that. But all things being equal, he isn’t going to supplant one of the most consistent hitters of the last decade because that guy had one bad month. The only way Bellinger going to get reps over Gonzalez — at this rate — is if Gonzalez is hurt (or maybe against left-handed pitching, like last night).

Maybe the Dodgers will put Gonzalez on the DL, and that might be the best move for all. Gonzalez is going to be needed at his normal level of production come September and October, so if a DL stint helps his elbow, forearm, neck, back or whatever is ailing him heal a bit, then there’s no harm in doing it. It might be a slight blow to Gonzalez’s pride, but he’ll get over it.

If nothing else, the last week has been really exciting, and it’s thanks in large part to Bellinger and what his future holds. He’s the real deal, folks, and before you know it, he’ll be here to stay. It may not be just quite yet.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin’ Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.