'I'm pumped to show you': Bell hopes he's broken out

April 8th, 2023

CLEVELAND -- Guardians first baseman sat at the podium in the media room at Progressive Field prior to Cleveland’s 5-3 loss to the Mariners in the home opener and was sure not to sugarcoat the situation in which he’s found himself.

There was a lot of focus on the excitement for Bell to play in front of a home crowd at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario for the first time. Both his family and his wife’s were in attendance, and he couldn’t wait to play in front of his daughter, who he hadn’t seen since the week before Spring Training started. But there was no hiding the drought he’s been experiencing.

Bell entered the day having gone 2-for-22 (.091 average) with two singles to start the season. He was Cleveland’s big offseason signing, shouldering the expectations of boosting this offense to the next level. And even though he didn’t produce on the road trip, his team still won five of its seven games.

“It’s awesome to see, especially when a guy like myself hasn’t played very well at all,” Bell said.

That’s why Friday’s RBI single meant more than just a run on the scoreboard.

It’s easy to see how pressure could be building. Bell had high expectations for his bat coming into the year after a rocky second half of last season with the Padres. He was slotted in behind José Ramírez in the lineup to give him much-needed protection that he hasn’t received in the last few years. Plus, power has been the biggest weapon missing from the Guardians’ toolbox.

Because Bell has been scuffling, Guardians manager Terry Francona decided to bump him down one spot in the batting order for the home opener.

“I think it’s human nature. Guys normally try to do too much. You see it all the time,” Francona said. “He’ll be fine. If you read his baseball card, there’s a lot of crooked numbers there. He’s gonna have to click on, and then he’ll settle in and be who he is.”

Could his timely hit in the third inning be that “click” the Guardians have been waiting for?

Shortstop Amed Rosario drew a one-out walk before Josh Naylor singled him to second base. With runners on first and second and two outs, Bell laced a 100 mph single into right-center field to plate Rosario. The only problem was that Naylor got overaggressive on the bases, attempting to advance to third as Rosario came home. Naylor was thrown out, halting any potential momentum.

The takeaway? Bell delivered in a critical time, which hadn’t happened yet this season. Yes, it’s an extremely limited sample size, but with the Guardians hoping that signing Bell was an answer to a lot of their offensive woes, this was the first stepping stone they’d been looking for. Bell had 11 plate appearances with runners in scoring position prior to Friday. He was hitless in those instances, with two walks.

His efforts were part of a Guardians loss, but if this is what Bell needed to find a rhythm offensively, it could be a victory in the long run.

“I’m happy for Josh,” Francona said after the game. “I mean, that’ll help him immensely.”

Bell has been known in his career to get off to hotter starts than finishes. He hit .302 with a 1.024 OPS in the first half of his All-Star season in 2019 with Pittsburgh. He then batted .233 with a .780 OPS the rest of the way. He mimicked that last year when he hit .301 with an .877 OPS with the Nationals before being sent to the Padres at the Trade Deadline in August.

But he’s a bat that has 30-homer, 100-RBI potential, which is the biggest reason the Guardians brought him to Cleveland. Now, the club just needs him to settle in.

“It gets tough from time to time trying to honor both sides [of the plate] and put work in on both sides,” Bell said. “But when both sides are going really well, it’s really fun to watch. I’m pumped to show you guys that this weekend.”