Cody Bellinger benched for NLDS Game 4 with future as Dodger in doubt

SAN DIEGO — Cody Bellinger’s regression from the player voted MVP in the National League three years ago might have hit its final low with the Dodgers on Saturday.

Benched against San Diego Padres left-hander Blake Snell in Game 3, Bellinger was not in the starting lineup for Game 4 either despite the Padres starting a right-handed pitcher, Joe Musgrove.

“He was upset,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Bellinger’s reaction when he told him he would not be starting Saturday. “He was upset. He wanted to be in there. He expected to be in there. All year long I’ve played him against right-handed pitching, and he wanted to be in there. But he also said he’ll be ready for whatever we need.”

Roberts cited Bellinger’s career numbers against Musgrove (2 for 17) as one reason for his decision and Musgrove’s reverse splits as another – he has actually been more difficult for left-handed batters (a .203 average and .622 OPS) than right-handed (.254 and .720).

“And there’s a lot of spin,” Roberts said of Musgrove, who throws his slider and curveball 43.5% of the time. “I just feel that tonight to win one game, I just felt that Trayce (Thompson) and Chris (Taylor) just had a better chance.

“Obviously Cody wants to be in there, but this is a decision that I had to make, I chose to make.”

It was a decision three years in the making – and foreshadows another decision the Dodgers will have to make this winter.

Bellinger has made $33 million while hitting .193 with a .611 OPS over the past two seasons. He is eligible for salary arbitration for the final time this winter – which almost always guarantees a salary increase.

That has created the very real possibility that the Dodgers will not tender him a contract, allowing him to become a free agent rather than risk paying even more than this year’s $17 million for a superb defensive player who has devolved into a hitter the Dodgers don’t want in their lineup when facing postseason elimination.

“I think a lot of that gets into the totality of what our payroll is and what our needs are,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said when asked about the possibility of making Bellinger a non-tendered free agent. “All things that we will focus in on a lot more after the season.”

Asked before the postseason began what Bellinger’s future with the Dodgers might be, Friedman kept his answer focused on the short term.

“His future is helping us win the World Series in 2022,” Friedman said. “He is an incredibly talented player who’s gone through a lot of stuff the last few years. I have seen a guy go through it while working really hard and not making excuses. He wants to have better performance. We would like him to have better performance. The only thing that we can really ask from a player is to do everything in his power to get right and he is putting in the work.

“Last year, he was scuffling going into October and was arguably one of our top two hitters last year in October. Just because his year has not been up to the standard that we would like, I don’t think it’s a fait accompli that his October won’t be. So we expect him to be right in the thick of it with us, trying to win a championship.”

Since Bellinger’s MVP season in 2019, it has been Roberts’ challenge to manage the difference between the expectations of the player Bellinger can (and maybe should) be and the player he has actually been.

“It’s difficult. There’s no exact science to it,” Roberts said. “I think I’ve shown that I’ve supported him. I’ve given him a lot of leash because he’s earned it, and also I believe in the player, the talent, the person.

“That’s difficult at times. I think I’ve been consistent with that. But in this particular moment, with all the information I have, with what I’ve seen recently, I had to make a difficult decision.”


Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner jammed the ring finger on his right hand into first base when he dove back on a pickoff attempt in the eighth inning of Game 3 on Friday night. X-rays after the game were negative but Roberts said Turner also underwent an MRI on Saturday. The exam confirmed there was no fracture and Turner’s injury was diagnosed as a Grade 2 sprain of the finger.

Turner suffered hand injuries in 2019 (his right) and 2021 (his left) and underwent surgery when a fracture in one of his fingers did not heal properly in 2019.

Roberts acknowledged there was “a little doubt” about whether Turner would be in the Dodgers’ lineup for Game 4 but Turner went through a brief preg-game workout and was in the starting lineup at shortstop.

“I gave him that option,” Roberts said of moving Turner to DH. “He said he wanted to go through the workout and felt that he could play short and throw it across the diamond.”

Roberts said the injury was not severe enough that Turner would have been placed on the injured list had it occurred during the regular season but “he might take a day (off).”


The four teams that earned first-round byes in MLB’s new playoff format have not hit the ground running in the postseason. The Dodgers entered Saturday trailing in their Division Series. The Atlanta Braves were eliminated by the Philadelphia Phillies. The New York Yankees lost Saturday to fall behind, two games to one, against the Cleveland Guardians. Only the Houston Astros took a 2-0 lead in their series, which they then closed out with an 18-inning win Saturday night in Seattle.

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“If you want to use it for an excuse, then you can. But it’s definitely an excuse,” Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts said. “When you start the game, nobody cares what you went through before you got there. We just know you’re here now.

“It doesn’t matter if it did help us or hurt us or whatever or not. We’re down 1-2 right now, so we have to win today.”

Former Padres pitcher and current MLB Network analyst Jake Peavy said he definitely thinks it has been a factor.

“I love the new format. I love the extra teams getting in. I think it’s been amazing to watch,” Peavy said. “I think you’re also realizing that energy and momentum and riding a wave of that is relevant in the postseason. It certainly seems to me that all of these teams that have sat for five days are missing, for sure, some plate timing and not swinging the bats the way we saw those teams swing the bats in the regular season.

“I don’t know that at any point in time during the season you have that much time off, and it’s hard to stay sharp when you’ve got another really good team playing meaningful games and then bouncing right to you. … Is that really an advantage to sit there and get ready for the other team? It hasn’t quite seemed to be so far.”

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