They say when a door closes, a window opens.
Yesterday the stoic Butter and Eggs Man, Adrian Gonzalez, stepped off the field and on the disabled list for the first time in his career. However, fans of Gonzalez weren’t too sad for too long, because Cody Bellinger stepped right into place and impressively led the Dodgers to a 10-2 victory over the San Diego Padres. It wasn’t the first time he’s done so.
Ever since Bellinger joined the big club, less than two weeks ago, he’s placed his stamp on almost every game he’s played in. He’s come on like a big blue buzzsaw, slicing through opposing teams like a hot knife through butter. What’s more, he’s already smashing ancient Dodgers’ rookie records like a sledgehammer crushing eggs.
Television sports highlights and our Twitter timelines are full of Cody Bellinger’s massive home runs, the latest being a grand slam he blasted against the Padres. While those fireworks are dazzling, the real magic in Cody Bellinger springs from his baseball instincts, and more importantly, his ability to act on those instincts successfully.
A case in point comes from the fourth inning of yesterday’s game. The Dodgers and Padres were locked in a scoreless tie through three innings, and then Bellinger came up to the plate with Justin Turner in scoring position.
Conventional baseball wisdom these days calls for a defensive shift on left-handed power hitters, and the Padres dutifully put on said shift. Bellinger simply did something he’s already done a couple of times before. He took advantage of the vacated left side of the infield and poked a single through the empty shortstop’s position to knock in the Dodgers’ first run of the game and advance Franklin Gutierrez to third.
With Yasiel Puig at bat, the Padres committed a throwing error that brought Gutierrez in and send Bellinger to second. Young Cody wasn’t content to stand on second and wait for Puig to do something. Bellinger saw an opening and he took it, stealing third base, rattling the Padres, and multiplying the ways the Dodgers could score. Puig singled and Bellinger trotted home with the third run of the inning.
It wasn’t flashy like a home run, but in that one sequence, Cody Bellinger kept a Dodger rally alive (something they’ve been sorely lacking all season), beat the shift, broke a scoreless tie with an RBI single, stole a base, and scored a run. He was directly responsible for two of the first three runs the Dodgers scored, because he recognized opportunities and took advantage of them.
Later, when he hit the grand slam, he was responding and executing on another opportunity. A straight fastball that was so high, lots of other left-handers on the Dodgers might have fouled it off. Bellinger saw that mistake – bases loaded, big moment mistake – and capitalized. In a flash, the Dodgers scored four more runs.
Instincts and execution. Bellinger shows these in every game he plays, whether he launches a home run or not.
Cody Bellinger is going to hit plenty of home runs. No one can deny that fact, but he’s not the first guy to come on the scene and blast homers in every direction. Baseball’s long road is littered with rookie power hitters who had breakout inaugural years, but couldn’t adjust after opposing pitchers figured them out. Teams will adjust to Bellinger and find new weapons to use against him. He’ll need more than a powerful swing to succeed over the long haul.
That’s where instincts and execution come in – and the kid is showing he has plenty of both.