For the first time in 140 days, Cody Bellinger was playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, fully recovered from the forearm bash and ensuing shoulder surgery.
“I think Cody’s the happiest guy in camp,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “to be playing in a big-league game.’’
It may have been only a meaningless spring training game against the Milwaukee Brewers, but for Bellinger, it felt as if was Game 6 of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays again.
“It felt good, really good,’’ Bellinger said, “felt great to be back in a game today with fans.’’
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Bellinger, who unveiled a new, wide-open stance in his return, is confident as ever that he’ll be ready for the Dodgers’ season-opener April 1 against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. And, ready to help the Dodgers become the first National League team to win back-to-back World Series titles in 45 years.
If the Dodgers can win the World Series with Bellinger struggling most of the year, Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer now joining them, and former Cy Young winner David Price returning, can you imagine how dangerous they might be with everybody together?
Certainly, Bellinger is doing everything possible to revert back to his 2019 greatness when he won the NL MVP award, undergoing surgery on his ailing right shoulder, religiously undergoing strength and conditioning, and now make a drastic change at the plate.
“Just playing with what I feel is good for me,’’ Bellinger said, “I feel confident with it, so …”
When asked who came up with the idea of the change, Bellinger didn’t blink.
“Myself,” he said. “I had a lot of down time, a lot of time to think. I’ve done it in the past, had success with it, and to be honest, I just feel really good with it.”
Bellinger took some huge swings with his revamped stance, seeing 17 different pitches on the day, but hit two soft infield grounders sandwiched by a strikeout in his three plate appearances.
The results hardly dampened his enthusiasm, showing plenty of speed running to first base, and playing six innings in center field with no discomfort.
“I felt pretty good today,’’ Bellinger said, “and as the game went on, it felt better. The timing, I don’t think, will take long.’’
It’s a game of constant adjustments, and considering that pitchers made the adjustment by jamming Bellinger with a steady mix of fastballs last year, why not fight back?
“It was more how I felt,’’ Bellinger said, “not the way pitchers attacked me. It’s comfortable. It’s all about comfort. … It’s all about being consistent. And I believe in it.’’
Bellinger will be the first to tell you he never really felt comfortable last year. He hit a career-low .239 with a .333 on-base percentage, .455 slugging percentage and .789 OPS.
He hardly looked like the same guy who batted .305 with 47 homers and a 1.035 OPS during his 2019 MVP season.
It would be easy to blame the struggles on his troublesome shoulder or the truncated season, but he offered no excuses, simply having the desire to change in hopes of making himself one of the game’s finest all-around players once again.
If Bellinger is making too big of an adjustment too soon, Roberts says it’s premature to really answer.
“Ideally, you want these guys to have one set stance and feel comfortable,’’ Roberts said, “but that’s not the case. It can change. … He’s a very feel-driven guy, and right now, he feels better a little bit more open.
“It can change. We want him to feel comfortable.’’
Most of all, the Dodgers simply want him to stay healthy, hoping the shoulder surgery will end the days of his shoulder separations, no matter how minor, that plagued him in the past.
“To continue to have the risk of it popping out is bad for the labrum,’’ Bellinger said this spring, “and it’s dangerous.’’
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So now all he needs to remind himself that no matter how celebratory the moment, the days of forearm bashes, powerful high-fives and aggressive low-fives are over.
That forearm bash he delivered with former teammate Enrique Hernández, after homering in Game 7 of last year’s NLCS victory against Atlanta, caused a right shoulder dislocation, and a valuable lesson.
“Never again,” said Bellinger, who hit just .136 in the World Series. “I will be a handshake guy for the rest of my career, that’s for sure.
“I’m done with that.”
The old-school celebration is in.
The old batting stance is out.
It’s the 2021 version of Cody Bellinger coming to a ballpark near you.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger unveils new batting stance in spring debut