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Cody Bellinger’s home run is the Dodgers’ first walk-off win of 2021

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“I knew I hit it well,” Bellinger said. “But I haven’t hit too many this year so I wasn’t sure.”

Chicago Cubs v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Cody Bellinger’s season full of stops and starts has been frustrating, but he had reason to smile on Saturday. His solo home run with two outs in the ninth inning gave the Dodgers a 3-2 win over the Cubs, and delivered the first walk-off win of the year for Los Angeles.

Bellinger didn’t even start on Saturday, held out of the lineup as a rest day in just his fourth game back off his latest stint on the injured list. But after entering the game on a double switch in the seventh inning, Bellinger got his chance.

The home run brought the Dodger Stadium crowd of 45,420 — just the fifth Dodgers home game with no capacity restrictions — to its feet.

“It felt great,” Bellinger said. “It’s so good to have them back.”

It was just Bellinger’s second home run of the season (which doesn’t include the ball he hit over the fence for a single on opening day), and his seasonal line is .225/.353/.352.

“He understands his four at-bats per night is certainly a value, but so is his defense,” manager Dave Roberts said earlier Saturday. “You can’t get it all back in one night or one week. I think that as he matures as a big league ballplayer, he’s realized that.”

“There’s a lot of season left,” Bellinger said.

On the attack

Julio Urías rebounded from his worst start of the season to set a career high with 12 strikeouts on Saturday, executing a simple plan revealed by his manager.

“I think it’s going to be him on the attack,” Roberts said before Saturday’s game. “I just think that, with his entire mix, I expect him to be aggressive in the strike zone.”

In giving up six runs in Monday’s loss in San Diego, he threw only 59.8 percent of his pitches for strikes. That’s noteworthy because entering Saturday, Urías led baseball in strike percentage (71.4 percent) and threw first-pitch strikes 72.4 percent of the time, third-best in MLB.

Urías on Saturday threw 69 percent of his pitches for strikes, but more importantly all his pitches were effective. He got 15 swings and misses and 20 called strikes, totaling 41.7 percent of his pitches. The league-wide CSW% (called strike and walk percentage) is 28.2 percent, and the MLB leader (Corbin Burnes) is at 35 percent on the season.

All three of Urías’ pitches on Saturday — fastball, changeup, curveball — had at least a 40 percent CSW%.

Urías avoided the dreaded first-inning ambush, snapping a string of five straight games in which the Dodgers allowed at least one home run in the opening frame. Then he lasted 5⅓ innings, allowing only two runs.

On offense

Instead, it was the Dodgers who struck first in this one. Doubles by Mookie Betts and Max Muncy brought home the first run, then Justin Turner grounded a ball away from the shift into right field. Three batters in, the Dodgers led 2-0, just the second time in their last 10 games they scored in the first, and after a week that saw them outscored 10-0 in the opening frame.

Scoring opportunities presented themselves throughout the remainder of the game. Two of their best opportunities were thwarted by rocket-armed catcher Willson Contreras throwing out Chris Taylor at third base — on an attempted steal after a leadoff double in the second, and a pickoff in the fourth.

Those were the first caught stealing and the first pickoff of Taylor this season.

Meet Joseph

After Friday night’s game, Roberts casually mentioned that Joe Kelly goes by Joseph now. When pressed for details before Saturday’s game, Roberts chuckled.

“Joe came up with it himself. It’s his alter ego. It’s the strike-throwing person,” Roberts explained. “I joke with him all the time about it. Yeah, I like Joseph.”

There’s been a lot to like of late with Kelly, whose shoulder is healthy after offseason surgery, and no longer feels like “fire ants were eating my arm from the inside-out.

In 10 appearances in June, Kelly has allowed two runs (one earned) in 9⅓ innings, with 11 strikeouts (30.6-percent strikeout rate) and only two walks. That included striking out both batters he faced on Saturday, on eight total pitches.

“That was Joseph,” Roberts said. “He was painting the glove side with the heater.”

One two-seamer to Jake Marisnick was measured at 100.5 mph, Kelly’s third-fastest pitch of the season. Three pitches from Kelly registered at 99 mph and above, giving him 15 such pitches in the season. All have been thrown in June.

On the Dodgers, only Dustin May (35) has(/had) more pitches 99 mph or above this season.

Notes

  • Dodgers pitchers struck out 16 batters on Saturday, matching their season high, set in an 11-inning game on April 25 against San Diego.
  • David Price got the final two outs of the ninth inning, pitching for a third straight day for the first time in his career. Price is the fourth Dodgers pitcher to pitch three straight days this season, joining Dennis Santana (April 26-28), Victor Gonzalez (June 13-15), and Blake Treinen (June 13-15).
  • Phil Bickford retired all five batters he faced with two strikeouts, and had a three-pitch eighth inning. “You don’t see too many three-pitch innings in the big leagues,” Roberts said. (it was in fact only the third three-pitch inning in MLB this season, per Sarah Langs of MLB.com)
  • Jason Heyward led off the seventh inning with a drive down the left field line that was originally called a home run. But the tie-breaking shot was overturned by the umpires on the field, saying the ball was foul. The foul call was upheld after a nearly two-minute replay review. “Originally I thought the ball went around the pole,” third base umpire D.J. Reyburn to a pool reporter. “I had doubts on the original call, so I wanted to get together with the crew. Based on the information they gave me, I wanted to change it.”

Saturday particulars

Home runs: Cody Bellinger (2); Anthony Rizzo (10), Jason Heyward (6)

WP — David Price (3-0): ⅔ IP, zeroes

LP — Keegan Thompson (3-2): ⅔ IP, 1 hit, 1 run

Up next

Clayton Kershaw starts the series finale (4:08 p.m., ESPN), the Dodgers’ second game on ESPN ‘Sunday Night Baseball’ this season. Right-hander Adbert Alzolay starts for the Cubs.