Cody Bellinger is ahead of schedule in his shoulder rehab

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Jorge Castillo
·5 min read
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Los Angeles Dodgers' Cody Bellinger reacts after striking out against the Atlanta Braves.
Dodgers' Cody Bellinger reacts Game 6 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves in Arlington, Texas. (Eric Gay / Associated Press)

Cody Bellinger is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from the arthroscopic labrum surgery he underwent on his right shoulder in November. He started taking swings two or three weeks ago, took batting practice in the cage for the first time Tuesday, foresees facing live pitching by the end of next week, and hopes to play in spring training games by March 15.

He is 100% certain he will be ready for opening day. He’s also 100% certain that his days of forearm bashing are behind him.

“Never again,” Bellinger said Wednesday with a laugh. “I will be a handshake guy for the rest of my career, that's for sure. I won't ever go back to it.”

Bellinger sustained the shoulder injury when he smashed forearms with (now former Dodger) Kiké Hernández celebrating his go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. Excitement quickly became panic, but Bellinger stayed in the game and didn’t miss any of the World Series.

Dodgers' Cody Bellinger celebrates with teammate Kiké Hernandez.
Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger celebrates his homer with Kiké Hernandez in Game 7 of the NLCS. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“I honestly felt pretty good,” Bellinger said. “Yeah. It didn't feel as good as it does right now, that's for sure. But I was fine. I've done it before. It's just like super sore and tight, for the most part, once you pop it in.”

Bellinger spoke Wednesday morning six-plus feet away from masked reporters at Camelback Ranch nearly a year after the media were last granted in-person access to Dodgers personnel, before COVID-19 upended the world last March.

The 25-year-old center fielder spent most of his offseason at the facility, minutes from where he grew up in Scottsdale, rehabbing. The days were monotonous. His teammates weren’t around. He welcomed spring training.

“Feels good to be back playing because rehab is so boring,” Bellinger said. “So boring, especially when no one's here. So to have everyone here now, it feels good, it's just fun.”

Bellinger said his history of right shoulder dislocations prompted his decision to have the procedure in November; he most recently had the shoulder pop out when he dove for a ball at first base in May 2019, which drove the Dodgers to move him to the outfield almost exclusively.

The more often the shoulder popped out, Bellinger explained, the more dangerous it became for the labrum and the longer the recovery time would’ve been for a surgery down the line. Quelling the problem in November and not jeopardizing missing any time in 2021 made the most sense.

He started with dry swings then five swings of soft toss, gradually increasing the workload. On Wednesday, he stood in the batter’s box to track pitches from left-hander David Price.

“Next week, I'm basically full go,” Bellinger said. “Yeah, I’m way ahead of schedule. I feel really good. I was supposed to [be] hitting in late February but I've been hitting for a few weeks now [and I] did defense yesterday.”

Bellinger said he doesn’t believe the surgery will hinder him. He posited that it helps that his swing features a short follow-through. In the field, he said he won’t play defense in a game until he’s sure he can make all the necessary plays without thinking about the shoulder. He won’t need a brace.

The focus, he hopes, will be solely on helping the Dodgers win games and rebounding from a 2020 season in which he batted .239 with a .789 on-plus slugging percentage and 12 home runs while trying to fix his swing mechanics after being named the 2019 National League MVP. He thinks he’ll be 100% ready and he knows how he won’t celebrate.

McKinstry poised to replace Hernández

The Dodgers let Hernández walk in free agency knowing they had a possible super utility replacement ready in Zach McKinstry.

The 25-year-old McKinstry has played second base, shortstop, third base, left field, center field and right field in his professional career. He made his major league debut last season in right field.

“That's the goal,” McKinstry said. “You see [Hernández] leave, you're kind of in that same role throughout the minor league system and they just kind of bring you up that way so definitely those are the shoes I think I need to fill and I think I'm right there competing for that spot and it's up for the taking.”

McKinstry was a 33rd-round pick in the 2016 draft out of Central Michigan. He emerged as a legitimate prospect in 2019 when he batted .300 with 19 home runs and an .882 OPS in 121 games for double-A Tulsa and triple-A Oklahoma City.

“We’re going to give him opportunities,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “There’s a lot to like with Zach.”

Short hops

David Price, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, and Josiah Gray were among the pitchers to pitch in live batting practice sessions Wednesday. Roberts said the hard-throwing May touched 101 mph. … Joe Kelly recently resumed his throwing program, according to Roberts, after being down for about a week with an undisclosed injury. Mitch White remains sidelined.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.