Struggles against lefties make Cody Bellinger a platoon player for Dodgers

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DENVER – A year ago, no left-handed hitter in baseball had a higher slugging percentage against left-handed pitching than Cody Bellinger. Only three lefty hitters (Joey Votto, Charlie Blackmon and Corey Seager) had a higher OPS against left-handed pitching than Bellinger.

That kept Bellinger in the lineup against left-handed pitching as a rookie. But his inability to replicate that this season has been the main reason Bellinger’s production has dropped off from his Rookie of the Year season – and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has started taking him out of the lineup against left-handed pitchers (like the Rockies’ Saturday starter, Kyle Freeland).

“I think for Cody, this year I think has been a struggle – I know it’s been a struggle – against left-handers,” Roberts said. “Throughout his career, he’s shown he can hit left-handed pitching. But right now, we have options of guys that have done it and are doing it currently.”

Bellinger’s offensive numbers against right-handed pitchers this season (.280/.355/.512) have been comparable to his rookie season (.265/.360/.588). But the dropoff against left-handers has been precipitous – a .220 average, .309 on-base percentage and .390 slugging percentage.

“I think the left-handers are getting him to chase more than they did last year,” Roberts said. “So it’s two-fold. Number one, on balls outside of the strike zone, I think last year he did a better job of laying off. And I think last year there was an unfamiliarity where they were throwing him spin in the strike zone and he was making them pay. I think now the left-handers, they’re not giving in as much and he’s been more reluctant to take the free pass.”

Bellinger is not the only Dodger who finds himself in a platoon arrangement. Shortstop Manny Machado and third baseman Justin Turner are the only lineup certainties on a daily basis. Matt Kemp started for the National League All-Star team in July but a second-half slump has reduced him to a platoon player for the Dodgers. Yasiel Puig hit the longest home run by a Dodger this season Friday night and is 4 for 12 with two home runs in his career against Freeland. But, like Bellinger, he has not produced against left-handed pitchers this season (actually the past three) and was not in the starting lineup Saturday.

“I think when you don’t have the depth we have – and I would argue that 29 other teams don’t have it – there is the argument to ride the hot hand,” Roberts said. “But over the course of a long and big sample size, each game and each pitcher is different. There’s value in lumping it all together in the recency but I think there’s a stronger case to be made on the larger sample size. And right now, my answer is easy when you have guys that are a better option, to be frank.”

The mixing-and-matching might be difficult for the individuals involved, Roberts acknowledged, “but this is the only way I feel we have a chance to win.”

“I am more sensitive to it,” Roberts said of his experience as a player. “But I can’t appreciate what Matt Kemp feels as an All-Star in this current year and to now be relegated to a platoon. I can’t understand or appreciate Kenta Maeda who’s been very good for us to now go to the bullpen for the greater good. I’m very sensitive to a Brian Dozier who is going into free agency.

“These are difficult conversations. But my No. 1 thing is — I understand their thoughts. It’s human for them to feel they’re the best options and be disappointed, upset – whatever it might be. But there’s an overall sacrifice that is needed for us to move on and to win a championship. To each one of these guy’s credit, they’re buying in. I know it’s not easy.”

ALSO

Right-hander Dennis Santana pitched one inning for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga in the Quakes’ playoff game Friday night. Santana walked two batters but struck out one and didn’t give up a hit. It was his first game action since his big-league debut on June 1. Santana was diagnosed with a strained muscle in the back of his pitching shoulder shortly after that game.

UP NEXT

Dodgers LHP Rich Hill (7-5, 3.73 ERA) at Rockies LHP Tyler Anderson (6-7, 4.80 ERA), Saturday, 12:10 p.m., SportsNet LA (where available)

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