Cubs News

Cody Bellinger’s return could have intriguing ripple effects on Cubs roster

1 year agoTony Andracki

The Cubs have missed Cody Bellinger over the last month but in his absence, they’ve also discovered another valuable piece to their roster.

Bellinger has been out since he injured his knee making an incredible catch on May 15 in Houston. Shortly after he was placed on the IL, the Cubs called up veteran outfielder Mike Tauchman, who has since carved out a regular role for himself in the outfield.

It won’t be long before Bellinger is back in Chicago, as he began a rehab stint with Triple-A Iowa Tuesday night — playing first base.

It’s an interesting move for multiple reasons, especially given Bellinger’s Gold Glove caliber defense in center field.

But this could be a way to get Bellinger back in the Cubs lineup sooner while also improving the overall health of the team with both Bellinger and Tauchman playing at the same time.

“There’s a number of thoughts there,” David Ross said Tuesday afternoon. “Just probably easier on the knee from everything he’s done up to this point. The only thing that has bothered his knee is the all-out sprint and the extension within that.

“Also, Tauchman’s swinging the bat really well and has held down center field pretty well so just trying to find the best lineup whenever Belli gets back. Having him, he’s pretty darn good at first base and has been. Just having another option over there makes some sense.”

Bellinger has extensive experience at first base, making 214 starts there for the Dodgers earlier in his career. During his first couple seasons in the big leagues, he spent most of his time at first base before moving to the outfield and winning a Gold Glove in 2019.

Since 2019, Bellinger has played just 23 games at first base while spending almost all of his time in center field.

Tauchman has emerged as Ross’ new leadoff hitter as his .389 on-base percentage earned a spot atop the order for the third straight game Tuesday.

“Mixing some things up,” Ross said. “I thought he’s had good at-bats where we’ve put him. I like breaking up the lefties is what it really boils down to. Other teams that have legit lefties out of the bullpen and not being able to match up in certain spots has been something. I really like Nico [Hoerner] in the 2 [spot] and trying to continue to form the lineup in a way that gets us the most runs.”

Tauchman has come up with some big hits over the last couple of weeks and has played solid defense in center field.

There’s no timetable for when Bellinger might be able to return but when he does rejoin the lineup, the Cubs offense will be better for it — especially if it’s at first base.

Entering play Tuesday, the Cubs ranked 29th in baseball with a .609 OPS from the first base position, ahead of only the Astros (.564 OPS). Bellinger was slashing .271/.337/.493 (.830 OPS) on the season before the injury.

“First base production hasn’t been one of our strengths this year, so gotta get somebody going over there,” Ross admitted.

Inserting Bellinger at first base might not improve the Cubs outfield defense but it has the potential to inject more life into an offense that has scored the second-fewest runs in MLB since May 1.

Prospect Matt Mervis raked in the minors but has struggled to carry over the same level of production into his big-league career (.165 AVG, .531 OPS in 25 games).

The Cubs addressed their hole at first base over the winter by signing veterans Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini. Hosmer was released on May 25 and Mancini’s .647 OPS is well below his career mark (.779).

Tauchman, 32, has a track record of some success that shows his recent run is not a fluke. He had a .356 OBP and .807 OPS from 2019-20 with the Yankees.

The Chicagoland native also performed well in Triple-A prior to his promotion earlier this season (.427 OBP, .870 OPS).

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