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'I feel like I'm already there' -- Belli ready to roll

@kengurnick
July 9, 2020

LOS ANGELES -- Reigning National League MVP Cody Bellinger has bad news for opposing pitchers and video-game players. “I feel like I’m already there,” Bellinger said of his readiness for the 2020 season after a three-month pause. “I really got to work on my swing. I feel really good, and

LOS ANGELES -- Reigning National League MVP Cody Bellinger has bad news for opposing pitchers and video-game players.

“I feel like I’m already there,” Bellinger said of his readiness for the 2020 season after a three-month pause. “I really got to work on my swing. I feel really good, and it could be a blessing in the long run.”

Yes, he said he worked on a swing that won an MVP and Silver Slugger, slugged 47 homers, tallied 115 RBIs, hit .305, recorded a 1.035 OPS and led to 121 runs scored.

“I just got to work on it in a stress-free environment,” the Dodgers slugger said. “Just minor things I think about throughout the year. Figuring out why I was so good and remembering the feeling and not getting too caught up on last year. You’re always evolving. I feel really good with where I’m at this year.

“I just want to focus on what I’ve got to do in order to be good. I’m understanding that a little more. Not try to repeat last year. Just go out and be as consistent as I can, fine-tune the things that make me really good.”

Manager Dave Roberts said Bellinger is better positioned to follow up his MVP season than he was in 2018, when he encountered a sophomore slump after being named NL Rookie of the Year in ‘17.

“I think he learned that he can come out on the other side,” said Roberts. “It was tough sledding for Cody for quite some time coming off that rookie campaign, and you start wondering, ‘Was it real?’ You question the confidence, the mechanical piece. Everything he does now is with conviction and intent. There’s a talent component, but also there’s a process and preparation component that sometimes you have to struggle to understand the value of it.”

After working out in Arizona during the pause, Bellinger said he’s physically ready for Opening Day and had no health reservations about playing this season. He’s even eager to experience a season like no other.

“Everything is going to be so weird this year. It’s going to be fun,” he said. “It could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I’m just taking advantage of what we got.”

Bellinger said club officials are already addressing hitters’ concerns about the new center-field batter’s eye in the renovated Dodger Stadium, which apparently led to teammate Max Muncy injuring a finger when he couldn’t see a pitch that hit him.

“They’re already working on the adjustments to potentially make it better,” he said. “It’s going to be all good. It was a little low, and the seats weren’t blocked off, so if there were fans there, the pitcher’s arm would potentially come out of the stands.”

In a wide-ranging Zoom interview, Bellinger was asked about the hassle of wearing masks in public.

“I don't think it's a hassle to wear a mask,” he said. “If your breath stinks, it sucks. But it just means you brush your teeth a little more."

So, there you have it. In addition to working on an MVP swing and wearing a mask, Bellinger refined his video-game talents and definitely is in midseason smack-talk form.

“I’ve been playing so much Call of Duty, so much War Zone,” he said. “I play with [Gavin Lux]. Luxy, I’m so much better than Luxy -- that’s just a fact.”

Lux, of course, represented the Dodgers and finished in the top eight in the MLB The Show Players League, which took place during the shutdown.

Teammate Alex Wood suggested that it might take 17 home runs to win the title in a 60-game season, setting a target for Bellinger.

“That would be crazy. We’ll see,” he said.

Bellinger shrugged off the fact that the Dodgers’ first trip this year will take them to Houston against an Astros team that scored a World Series victory against them in 2017 that the Dodgers see as tainted.

“It feels so long ago,” he said. “I’m ready for 2020 and just play baseball.”

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.