Los Angeles Dodgers

Cody Bellinger rewarding Dodgers faith with historic start to 2019

Cody Bellinger is out to prove he’s no longer a platoon player, as the Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder is off to an historic start to the 2019 season.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are finally letting Cody Bellinger hit against left-handers this season, and so far he’s proving them right.

Bellinger hit another home run off a lefty on Friday in Colorado, a three-run shot off Rockies starter Tyler Anderson in the Dodgers 10-6 win at Coors Field. The Dodgers right fielder is hitting .375 with two home runs against left-handed pitchers in 2019, after hitting just six homers and batting .226 last season.

Bellinger’s start to the 2019 season isn’t just notable for the success he’s having against left-handers. It’s also history-making. Already with six home runs and 16 RBI in the Dodgers first eight games, the 23-year-old joins Alex Rodriguez (2007) and Eddie Mathews (1953) as the only players to reach those marks so early in a season.

The Dodgers didn’t always have confidence in Bellinger to hit against lefties, however. Last year he had only 186 at-bats against LHP, barely half of the total he had against righties. This season, though, he’s had 16 ABs against lefties and 20 against RHP. While he appeared in 162 of the Dodgers 163 games in 2018, he came on as a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement 27 times, often platooning in center or first base with Kike Hernandez. In the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, Bellinger didn’t start three of the five games as the Red Sox sent lefties David Price and Chris Sale to the mound.

So far this season, though, Bellinger has played every inning and has rewarded this newfound faith from the club by becoming a different player. His strikeout rate has declined from 23.9 percent a year ago to just 13.2 percent this season. He’s hitting .417 in eight games in 2019 with a 1.364 OPS. Even Bellinger admits he didn’t see this version of himself coming.

“Yeah, I don’t think anyone expects to be like this,” he said on Friday. “I was feeling good in Spring Training and just wanted to do what I could to carry it over to the regular season.”

Bellinger’s fast start has propelled the two-time defending NL champions to the best offense in the Majors. The Dodgers lead the league this season with 65 runs scored and are tied with the Seattle Mariners with 21 home runs hit. The win in Colorado on Friday was the club’s third straight victory, giving them a 6-2 record and the lead in the NL West.

It’s one thing to play like this in the first week of the season, but it’s another to keep it up throughout an entire season. It sounds cliché, but Bellinger says his approach this season is to take it one day at a time and come prepared to face every pitcher, righty or lefty.

“Confidence and mechanically-sound to a point where, just like being able to go against different pitchers and understand what you want to do,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay within myself every single day.”

He’s done just that this year, showing the Dodgers he can be trusted to stay in the lineup every day. Both the Dodgers and Bellinger have hit their stride to begin the season, now they just need to prove it’s going to last.

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