Bellinger returns in CF, batting cleanup

McKinstry also rejoins Dodgers, starts in right field vs. Giants

May 30th, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- For the first time since April 5 against the A’s, the Dodgers trotted out a starting lineup that featured star outfielder and utility man .

Both Bellinger and McKinstry were activated from the injured list before Saturday’s 11-6 loss to the Giants. Bellinger started at center field and batted cleanup, going 0-for-4 with a walk and a run scored, while McKinstry started in right and hit eighth, going 0-for-3. The Dodgers optioned outfielder DJ Peters and infielder Sheldon Neuse to make room on the active roster.

“It just makes our group better,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “The energy in the clubhouse is really lively right now. Cody certainly brings that, while Zach is more, you know, mild-mannered, but there’s an intensity there. It’s just additive all around.”

Bellinger was sidelined since April 5, after suffering a hairline fracture in his left fibula when he was accidentally cleated by A’s reliever Reymin Guduan. When the injury first happened, Bellinger and the Dodgers believed it would be a couple of days before the former MVP returned to the lineup.

But once the hairline fracture came up during further tests, the Dodgers had an idea it would be a lengthy absence. Bellinger said it took about 40 days before he began feeling healthy. He then began to run at full speed and went on a rehab assignment for Triple-A Oklahoma City. He played five games there, smashing two homers -- and he faced reliever Brusdar Graterol, who is also rehabbing, in a live batting practice session.

All in all, it was a difficult process for Bellinger, especially because he was away from the team yet again.

“Honestly, I feel like I haven’t been part of the team this year,” Bellinger said. “Just in Spring Training I was on my own schedule, you know, getting ready, and then obviously this happened. It’s good to be back with the boys. I’m super excited.”

The Dodgers are also excited to add Bellinger to an already potent lineup. Bellinger is scheduled to start in center field again on Sunday, and Roberts said he could see a scenario where the star outfielder plays in the next five games before Thursday’s off-day. One of those games will be at first base, which is just something the Dodgers will do for now as Bellinger eases back into action.

Offensively, Bellinger believes he’ll be ready to contribute right away. Because it was a leg injury, Bellinger was able to hit on the field consistently. He worked on his mechanics and feels he’s in a good place. He had a .211/.286/.368 slash line before going down with the injury.

“He’s in a really good place mechanically, mentally,” Roberts said. “Nobody can predict the results, but I think where he’s at right now, is really good.”

With Bellinger on the roster, the Dodgers now have four former MVPs, including Mookie Betts, Clayton Kershaw and Albert Pujols. When Bellinger entered the home clubhouse on Saturday, he immediately noticed that he was lockermates with Pujols.

“It’s amazing, man,” Bellinger said about being neighbors with Pujols. “I know I’m going to take full advantage of being next to a future Hall of Famer and, you know, try to learn from him as much as I can.”

As for McKinstry, the utility man gives the Dodgers another valuable piece off the bench. The rookie was hitting well before the injury, posting an .883 OPS in 17 games. But most of his value comes from his ability to play multiple positions, allowing the Dodgers to rest other key players.

With McKinstry in the lineup on Saturday, the Dodgers were able to rest Betts, who continues to struggle at the plate but drew a walk in a ninth-inning pinch-hit appearance Saturday. Roberts is unsure just how much McKinstry will play now that he’s back on the roster, but he’ll be available to play both corner-outfield spots, second and third base.

After a couple of injury-riddled weeks, the Dodgers are getting closer to full strength.

“It’s really good to have them back with us,” Roberts said.