Bellinger’s return boosts Cubs, who are getting healthy again after rash of injuries to key players

CHICAGO (AP) — Cody Bellinger was on a roll prior to his injury. He sure gave the Cubs a big boost in his return.

Bellinger homered and had three hits to help Chicago beat the San Diego Padres, 3-2, on Tuesday night after the slugger missed two weeks because of broken ribs.

“Obviously, you don’t expect to go out and get three hits,” he said. “But for me, it felt like I was in a good spot, obviously before the injury. And then working back, I just wanted to maintain it.

“A good first day.”

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Bellinger batted third and was the designated hitter in his first appearance since April 23. The 2019 National League MVP with the Los Angeles Dodgers fractured two ribs on his right side when he ran into the center field wall at Wrigley Field trying to make a play against the Houston Astros.

It was a sweet return for Bellinger. He extended his hitting streak to nine games and is 13-for-34 in that stretch.

Bellinger had the crowd cheering when he connected leading off the fourth against Randy Vásquez, driving a 3-2 pitch to the right-field bleachers for his sixth home run of the season. He also singled twice.

“You want to have your best players in the lineup, you want to be able to put your best team out there as much as you can,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said before the game. “Getting Cody back puts us in a step in the right direction.

“We’re happy to have him back. He’s been a really good offensive player in this league. He’s been off a little bit, but confident that it was a short layoff and we can get him back in the swing of things quickly.”

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The Cubs also placed right-handed pitcher Daniel Palencia on the 15-day injured list because of a strained right shoulder. They recalled right-hander Keegan Thompson from Triple-A Iowa and optioned outfielder Alexander Canario to the minor-league club.

Another injured Cubs starter, outfielder Seiya Suzuki (strained right oblique), was headed to Iowa to play Wednesday and Thursday and could return this weekend at Pittsburgh, Counsell said, giving the Cubs another big bat in the lineup. Suzuki has not played since April 14.

Bellinger, meanwhile, was ready to go Tuesday. Though he’s not pain free, he woke up feeling well enough to return after facing live pitching on Monday.

“It’s more mentally draining than obviously physically draining, just watching and wanting to be out there every night,” Bellinger said. “I’m glad to be back and ready to get back into the flow of things again.”

Counsell said the plan was to have Bellinger serve as the DH on Tuesday and probably Wednesday before deciding whether to play him in the field.

The 28-year-old Bellinger is batting .250 with six home runs and 18 RBI. He hit .307 with 26 homers, 97 RBI and 20 steals in 2023, his first season with the Cubs, regaining his form after a couple of down years with the Dodgers.

He re-signed with Chicago in February for an $80 million, three-year contract.

The Cubs were 22-15 and trailed NL Central leader Milwaukee by a few percentage points following Tuesday’s game, despite dealing with their share of injuries. Ace Justin Steele returned Monday to one of baseball’s best rotations after being sidelined since the season opener because of a strained left hamstring.

The lineup is now getting its key pieces back, with Bellinger returning and Suzuki just about ready.

“The starting pitching’s been amazing,” Bellinger said. “It shows the depth that we have as an organization, as well. We kind of saw it in spring, and it really got shown to light here early on in the season.”

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