Bellinger is in the lineup tonight against Pittsburgh righty Johan Oviedo, hitting sixth and playing first base. It’s his first start there in two years. Bellinger came up as a first baseman but moved primarily to the outfield by 2019, as the Dodgers (and subsequently Chicago) wanted to take advantage of his elite athleticism. Bellinger has been a very good defensive outfielder but he’ll break back in at first base after losing nearly a month to a left knee contusion.
Manager David Ross suggested as much earlier this week. Sprinting is still causing Bellinger some issues, and while the Cubs feel he’s sufficiently healthy to return to the diamond, they’ll try to ease the stress by putting him at a less demanding position. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer told reporters yesterday the club is hopeful of getting Bellinger back in the outfield at some point but didn’t specify a timeline (relayed by Meghan Montemurro of the Chicago Tribune).
Bellinger will try to pick up where he left off before the injury. The former MVP has been enjoying something of a bounceback season in Chicago. He’s hitting .271/.343/.493 over 163 trips to the plate. That’s not peak form but far better than his results from his final two seasons in Los Angeles, largely attributable to him cutting his strikeout rate from around 27% to 19% this year.
His return displaces Mervis, who heads back to the minors for the first time since he was called up on May 5. The Duke product tore up minor league pitching in 2022 and started this season with a .286/.402/.560 showing in Triple-A. He couldn’t carry that success over in his first look at big league arms. Mervis hit .167/.242/.289 over his initial 27 MLB games, striking out in 32 of his 99 trips to the plate.
There’s little sense for the Cubs in relegating him to a bench role, as he’s still a potential key offensive piece for the organization moving forward. With Bellinger at first base and Chicago using a rotation at designated hitter — Trey Mancini, Christopher Morel, Patrick Wisdom, Miles Mastrobuoni and Ian Happ have split the last five starts there — the clearest path for Mervis to get consistent reps was by sending him back to Iowa.