Dave Roberts benched Cody Bellinger for lack of hustle

By Michael Dixon
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Things are not going well for the Los Angeles Dodgers on the field. Following Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles sits at 12-16 and in fourth place in the NL West. But an incident between Dave Roberts and Cody Bellinger during Sunday’s game might point to a bigger problem.

In the fifth inning, Bellinger hit a ball to right center field that would have out of most ballparks. Unfortunately for Bellinger, the deep wall at AT&T park kept his ball in the park. The area is known as “Triple’s Alley” because generally speaking, hitters who put balls out there easily end up at third base. Yet, Bellinger coasted to a double.

Not long after, he was removed from the game. Roberts made the reasoning very clear. He also seemed to imply that this was not a one-time problem.

Bellinger took issue with the idea that he doesn’t hustle. He explained the situation and noted that based on the game situation, trying to take third wouldn’t have made sense.

Interesting.

Bellinger’s overall point is correct. When you’re down in a game, you don’t want to make outs on the bases. That said, some points must be made.

First of all, even after dropping to a knee on the swing, Bellinger easily should have ended up at third base. As long as they’re running hard out of the box, runners with far less speed than Bellinger easily get triples after hitting the ball out there. While Bellinger is young, he’s played enough in San Francisco to know that even a well hit ball to that part of the yard is no guarantee to get out. He should have been going hard.

This is especially true because the game was only in the fifth inning. In the later innings (especially the ninth), you want to be conservative on the bases when facing such a deficit. To tie the game, you and multiple people behind you will need to score anyway. As such, it won’t really matter if you end up on first, second, or third. But in the fifth inning of a 4-0 game, scoring even one run is nothing to sneeze at. The difference between a leadoff double and triple is significant.

So, Bellinger was in the wrong.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Roberts was in the right, though.

One really has to wonder if Roberts would have done this if the Dodgers were 16-12 instead of 12-16. One also has to wonder if Roberts would have done this with a lesser player.

Roberts may still have a great deal of confidence with his team, but things are not going well for a team that was heavily favored to win the division at the beginning of the year. Managers/coaches frequently look to single out the team’s best players in situations like this. There’s no proof that Roberts was doing this, but it’s worth speculating on.

For the sake of Roberts and the Dodgers, we have to hope that this galvanizes the team, makes everyone realize that nobody gets special treatment, and gets them to break out of their funk. That can happen. The opposite can also happen. Neither is without precedent. If Los Angeles doesn’t respond positively to this, things aren’t going to be getting any better.