PHOENIX -- Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger had never dealt with serious injuries throughout his career. Unfortunately, he’s gotten a crash course on the human body so far in 2021.
Bellinger was limited for most of Spring Training as he recovered from offseason arthroscopic surgery on his right (non-throwing) shoulder. About a month later, Bellinger sustained a hairline fracture of his left fibula after getting cleated by A’s reliever Reymin Guduan. That forced Bellinger to miss the next two months of the season.
Just as he was getting back to full health from the fractured fibula, Bellinger was sidelined yet again, missing 10 games with a hamstring injury. Now, Bellinger is dealing with a left rib fracture, one that landed him on the injured list on Tuesday.
Bellinger sustained the injury in a light collision with left fielder Gavin Lux a couple of weeks back. Initially, Bellinger thought he got the wind knocked out of him. Instead, the pain lingered for days, causing Bellinger to grow concerned. Once he underwent testing, it was discovered that he had cracked ribs.
“It’s been wild, I’m not going to lie. It’s been really crazy,” Bellinger said Saturday. “Broken bones don’t feel great. Hopefully we can learn from the injuries, not that I could have prevented them. But just keep working out and trying to be as healthy as I can be and learning a lot about the body and mind, all that stuff.”
The most recent injury put Bellinger’s availability for the rest of the regular season in jeopardy. Bellinger, however, believes he’s progressing well enough that he’ll be able to return to the field next week. The outfielder ran for the second consecutive day and said he felt better on Saturday than he did on Friday. Bellinger also took batting practice for the first time since sustaining the injury and checked out OK.
Bellinger is eligible to return from the IL on Tuesday against the Padres, but the Dodgers have been hesitant about setting a hard date for his return. The former MVP called Saturday’s workout “promising.”
“It’s more pain tolerance at this point, and it’s definitely becoming tolerable,” Bellinger said. “I feel good. Swinging felt great. Throwing was the worst part in Cincinnati because of the motion where the rib [injury] was and that actually felt pretty good today. I would say I’m close.”
When Bellinger returns to the field this season, he’ll step into the batter’s box with his new stance, one he displayed a week before the rib injury. His hands are much lower and his feet are slightly more open. Bellinger said he feels shorter and more compact with the new stance, a change that seemed long overdue.
Bellinger has been one of the worst hitters in baseball this season, posting a .159 batting average and a 43 OPS+, which places him 57 percent below a league-average hitter. His struggles have been one of the most shocking developments given the fact that the outfielder won the National League MVP Award just two seasons ago.
Given those struggles, why did it take Bellinger this long to make an adjustment at the plate?
“I think you have success and it’s hard to change after you’ve had success,” Bellinger said. “But I had to realize that my body isn’t what it was in years past because of surgery and all that sort of stuff. I had to make an adjustment. … It’s a game of adjustments, so it’s an adjustment I feel confident in right now.”
It hasn’t been the season that Bellinger imagined. He doesn’t want to think about fibulas, hamstrings, cracked ribs. He’s never experienced anything like this before, but it could all be erased with a productive postseason.
“It’s been a grind. It’s not fun,” Bellinger said of his '21 season. “But at the end of the day, I have confidence in myself and believe in myself. As bad as it’s been, I still feel really good and confident and excited. I’m in a good spot.”