Cubs’ Cody Bellinger trying to get groove back at plate


MESA, Ariz. — Cody Bellinger’s commute to Wrigley Field won’t be as familiar or as smooth as his 10-minute drive from his home to Cubs camp at Sloan Park.

Nor will the windy, wet elements forecast for April in Chicago provide Bellinger with the dry conditions he enjoys in his native Arizona.

And Bellinger soon will be facing higher-caliber pitching, which has given him trouble the last two seasons.

But Bellinger feels comfortable in his own home — the left-handed batter’s box.

With less than three weeks before the Cubs’ season opener against the Brewers, Bellinger has displayed some traits reminiscent of his 2019 National League MVP season with the Dodgers while shoring up the flaws that led to him being non-tendered in December.

‘‘I’m right where I want to be,’’ Bellinger said after hitting his first spring home run Wednesday in an exhibition game against Team Canada.

But it’s more than just power that has fueled the confidence of Bellinger and the faith from manager David Ross and hitting coach Dustin Kelly.

‘‘From the first day to today, there have been improvements,’’ Bellinger said. ‘‘You need at-bats to make the right adjustments, the correct adjustments.’’

Bellinger has struck out twice in 14 at-bats (not including his performance against Canada) and is identifying pitches more accurately and hitting with more authority.

‘‘That’s the next phase of where he’s going, and we’re starting to see him break the surface with pitch selection,’’ Kelly said Thursday. ‘‘He’s really comfortable with his move and setup. He’s comfortable where he’s getting to in a hitting position, and now it comes down to getting the pitch he wants and getting his ‘A’ swing on that pitch and how many times he can do that.’’

Bellinger, 27, batted .141 with an 86.3 mph exit velocity and 34.5% strikeout rate on breaking pitches in 2022, according to Baseball Savant. But Kelly said he has seen improvement.

‘‘He’s seen breaking balls, sliders in the zone that are in his ‘go’ zone, that he’s going to take his ‘A’ swing on, and he’s getting his swing off,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘He hasn’t squared them all up yet. But at least his pitch recognition, that’s a pitch he can go get and put a great swing on it, and he’s done that a couple of times. He hasn’t been frozen or backed up on anything yet.’’

Bellinger has welcomed the challenge of facing an array of breaking pitches.

‘‘No doubt,’’ he said. ‘‘The more at-bats I’m getting, the more I’m seeing. Timing has become natural, and I’m in a pretty good spot right now.’’

Bellinger enjoyed his six seasons with the Dodgers but doesn’t miss the morning commute to their spring facility in Glendale that can take at least an hour because of the Phoenix traffic.

Instead, Bellinger — who grew up and lives in Chandler — took advantage of the proximity to the Cubs’ spring complex after a 35-minute conversation and exchange of text messages with Kelly shortly after signing a one-year, $17.5 million contract with the Cubs on Dec. 14.

‘‘He talked about what he’s doing, where he wants to go, some of the moves he’s trying to get accomplished,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘When he got into the facility the next week, we just hit the ground running.’’

Ross said he has noticed a difference in Bellinger’s approach.

‘‘The work he’s put in [during] the offseason has translated, even in [batting practice], if you really paying attention,’’ Ross said. ‘‘That flowed rhythm in his swing, it looks like he’s on a good path to get ready for the season.’’


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