Bellinger looking to get back on MVP track with Cubs

Here’s one sidebar to the Cubs’ 2023 season: Cody Bellinger, what happened?

The projected Cubs center fielder went from winning National League MVP in 2019 to hitting .210 last season. The Dodgers didn’t invite him back, so he’s looking for a bounce-back season on the North Side.

On a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday, Bellinger talked about his slide from the Hollywood Hills to San Fernando Valley, so to speak.

“It’s tough, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I think at the end of it all, I’m going to look back and be appreciative that it happened and am going to be able to learn from it. I think it’s going to be better for the longevity of my career.”

In 2019, Bellinger hit .305 with 45 home runs and 115 RBI. His numbers dropped in 2020, but the pandemic year was tough on a lot of people. He did hit 4 postseason home runs while the Dodgers won the World Series.

One reason to believe Bellinger can rebound is the series of injuries that started in 2021. The Phoenix-area native had arthroscopic surgery on his right, non-throwing shoulder, and was limited in spring training. He missed two months with a hairline fracture of the right fibula after getting spiked, then suffered a broken rib in an outfield collision late in the season.

“I think my favorite thing that I’ve learned is you can’t change the past, but you can learn from it,” Bellinger said. “There were definitely injuries involved and your body wasn’t moving how it used to. I can go on and on. But looking forward, I’m feeling really good and confident and strong and looking forward to (the season).”

Bellinger said he’s focused on more body-part-specific weight training and has discussed a plate approach with the Cubs’ hitting staff. He also goes back a long way with Cubs assistant hitting coach Johnny Washington, who used to serve as a Dodgers’ minor league instructor.

“Long story short, I guess there were things that I thought in the past that weren’t working anymore,” Bellinger said. “My body was just moving different. So have to work with that and that’s what happens as life happens and you get older.”

There’s also a feeling that MLB’s new ban on extreme shifts will help the left-handed hitting Bellinger as much as anyone.

Bellinger, 27, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Dodgers out of high school in 2013. So changing into the blue pinstripes will be an adjustment.

“At first it was a little bittersweet, I’d been with them since 2013,” he said. “I was 17 years old trying on that jersey for the first time. At the end of the day, I understood. I don’t have any hard feelings. I get it.

“I took it as a new opportunity, another page. I’m excited that I get to be able to do this in Wrigley Field in a Cubs jersey. I understand how special it is to play for both organizations.”

Bellinger said one of the players he consulted about the move was former Dodgers teammate Joc Pederson, who spent half a season with the Cubs in 2021.

Bellinger’s stay in Chicago could be short. He signed a one-year deal worth a reported $17.5 million guaranteed, and he’s clearly keeping center field warm for top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong. But Bellinger started his career as a first baseman, so there could be a longer-term fit, depending on how things work out this year.

“In Major League Baseball, you definitely cannot beat a day game at Wrigley Field,” Bellinger said. “It’s definitely something special.”

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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