Why the Cubs felt now was the time for Cody Bellinger to return to center field
Earlier this week, Cody Bellinger fired off a text message to Cubs’ manager David Ross.
The note was simple: he was ready to return to roaming the center field pasture. Still, Ross was waiting for the right time to fit Bellinger back in the position he’s played so well this season. Thursday night in the series finale against the Phillies, he found it.
The 27-year-old started in center for the Cubs, his first start there since May 15, when he suffered a left knee contusion in Houston. Seiya Suzuki was out for the second day in a row with a neck issue and with a righty on the mound, the Cubs wanted to have the lefty bat of Jared Young in the lineup, too.
So, Bellinger returned to center, Young started at first and Mike Tauchman played in right field, giving the Cubs four options (including Ian Happ) from the left side against the Phillies’ Taijuan Walker.
“Seiya out helped a little bit,” Ross said. “Tauchman in right made some sense … I know [Bellinger] had said he wanted to get one more day of work out there, he was able to do that yesterday a little bit with [third base coach] Willie [Harris]. I just talked to him. Multiple conversations about when he was ready and today made the most sense with Seiya out.”
The Cubs brought back Bellinger from the IL with the full intention of having him play at first base — his bat was stellar before he landed on the IL and he had played first base during his tenure in Los Angeles, so the Cubs could play it safe that way with his knee and the team had been getting weak production offensively from that position. So, Bellinger at first made the most sense.
He’ll still likely see some time at first in the foreseeable future. It’d be asking a lot from Bellinger to have him play center field day in and day out after not doing it for a month, especially with an injury to a crucial body area like his knee. When Suzuki returns to the lineup, the Cubs can move Bellinger back to first base, have Tauchman in center and Suzuki in right. If there’s a tough lefty starter on the mound, Bellinger can still play first, with Christopher Morel in center and Suzuki in right.
For Bellinger, it’s now just about getting his timing and rhythm at the plate. His defense at either position is a plus. But the Cubs were really clicking in April when Bellinger was performing at the plate, so they need the offense to get back to the levels they were at before he got hurt. Amid a 13-game stretch with no days off and against strong teams, it’s the ideal time for Bellinger to hit a groove.
“Since he’s come off the IL, we have had that crazy travel, some off days within that,” Ross said. “We’ve sat him a little bit. He’s pinch-hit, come off the bench, swinging it well and been super aggressive.
“He’s gotten some balls to fall. Hasn’t hit it hard yet, but I feel like the timing’s coming a little bit. Again, this’ll be a nice little run of 13 games in a row to see if that can get going before the break.”