The door to Dave Roberts’ office stayed shut a little longer than usual after Monday night’s game.
There was no reprimanding Bellinger’s effort. No admonishing his attitude or work ethic.
But there was an acknowledgement that, with the slugger’s numbers dipping again, Roberts believed it was time to give the 27-year-old a midseason “reset,” telling Bellinger he would sit for the next couple of games.
“He’s been, I guess we all use the word ‘grinding’ a lot,” Roberts said Tuesday afternoon after he had indeed left Bellinger out of the lineup for the second game of the Dodgers’ series against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field.
“We had a good conversation, and this is more kind of playing the short-term and the long-term view to best serve him,” Roberts added. “This is a chance to give him one last chance to reset, get away from things, not worry about getting hits, cheering for his teammates and then get back in there and finish strong.”
For Bellinger, this week’s development is nothing new.
Ever since he won his National League MVP award with a 47-home run season in 2019, the two-time All-Star has spiraled into what is now a three-year tailspin.
He regressed during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season — though he had several key contributions to the Dodgers’ World Series run — then bottomed out last year, when he battled injuries and got caught up being “too internal” while batting a woeful .165 with just 10 home runs.
This year, Bellinger insisted Tuesday, feels different.
He has been healthy most of the season. He said he has been able to enjoy this season much more. And he believes that, despite a .206 batting average and .660 on-base-plus-slugging percentage that are both better than last year but still significantly below league average, he has been able to better contribute.
“Last year, for sure, I was super internal, not having any fun,” said Bellinger, who has 16 home runs and 50 RBIs this season. “This year, I’ve had a lot more fun on an everyday basis. Just fine-tuning what makes me really good.”
There have been glimpses of promise.
Bellinger started the year decently. In his first 15 games, he hit four home runs with a .273 batting average. During the third week of the season, he was named NL player of the week.
He slipped into a slump in early May but snapped out of it with a 10-for-27 stretch. He cooled off in June and most of July before getting hot a couple of weeks ago, when he had a .954 OPS with three home runs and 11 RBIs over an 11-game run.
The last week, however, Bellinger has stumbled once more.
In his last five games, he is two for 19 with six strikeouts. He said he is seeing the ball fine but isn’t doing enough damage on pitches in the zone.
He conceded he is probably pressing too, still trying to rediscover anything approaching his once-elite form at the plate.
“That’s the hardest part, I think, is knowing what’s in there and not being able to really just not even prove it to anyone but prove it to myself,” he said. “I know I can do it, but that’s where you put too much pressure on yourself.”
In addition to Tuesday’s game, Roberts said Bellinger will sit again Wednesday. He could return Thursday or Friday.
“Very surprised,” Roberts said when asked about another disappointing season from Bellinger. “I think we all are. But I kind of just look at things of, this is where we’re at. … So for me, it’s just not helpful to look how we got here. I’m trying to figure out how we’re going to move forward with him.”
Roberts said it’s possible that, if things don’t click for Bellinger down the stretch, he could be dropped into more of a part-time platoon role.
Despite Bellinger’s recent postseason track record — his bat also came to life last October, including a game-winning hit in Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants — Roberts acknowledged he will “put the guys that gives us the best chance to win.”
So far this season, Bellinger has been on the fringes of that group.
With less than two months to go before the postseason, he will get at least one more chance to try to reset again.
“I just want him to know we’re all supporting him whatever way we can,” Roberts said. “We’re going to need him, and he understands that.”