Cody Bellinger homers twice in Dodgers’ win over Angels

Five most valuable players took the field at Angel Stadium on Friday night. Two of them, Cody Bellinger and Clayton Kershaw, carried the Dodgers to a 7-4 victory over the Angels.

Kershaw dazzled, throwing seven innings of one-run, one-hit ball to lead the Dodgers to their National League-leading 14th win.

But Bellinger stole the show. He drilled two homers, marking the 12th multihomer game of his career and first of the season.

The results came as a relief. Bellinger has started the season in a deep funk. He entered Friday’s game batting .165 with two home runs and a .489 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He’d been encouraged in recent days by how much harder he was hitting the ball, but he was still a far cry from the .305 average and 1.035 OPS he posted on the way to an MVP award last year.

“I was just more frustrated,” Bellinger said. “I couldn’t tell you the size of the monkey [on my back]. I’d say decent-sized monkey. But I’ve been feeling good. I’m just trusting the process and sticking with it.”

When asked whether Bellinger might be trying to live up to the MVP tag, manager Dave Roberts conceded the point earlier this week.

“There might be something to that,” he said. “Whether the player admits it or not, when you’re following up an MVP campaign, you certainly put expectations on yourself. But our messaging has been just go out there, compete, take good at-bats and help us win baseball games.”

Dodgers vs. Angels game highlights.

To ameliorate the pressure, the Dodgers dropped Bellinger to fifth in the batting order for the first time this season.

Bellinger was held hitless in his first two at-bats Friday, but the decision ultimately proved fruitful.

“He looked like he was searching early, and then when we hung the slider,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said, referring to the pitch Bellinger clobbered 379 feet in his third at-bat against Angels starter Patrick Sandoval, “he felt a lot better the next time up. … He looks a lot the same [as he did in 2019]. He’s gonna be fine.”

Bellinger’s blasts, in the sixth and eighth innings, served to stretch the Dodgers’ lead over the Angels. As for fellow MVPs Mike Trout and Albert Pujols? They remained in the background for the Angels. And Mookie Betts was mostly silent for the Dodgers.

Fresh off a six-homer game the night before, the Dodgers took a 2-0 lead in the third inning playing small ball. Austin Barnes led off with a single and Betts reached second base on a ground ball bobbled by third baseman Anthony Rendon.

Corey Seager grounded into a fielder’s choice before Justin Turner shot an RBI single into right field. Seager scored from third when Turner slid hard enough into second base to topple the Angels’ Tommy La Stella, preventing him from turning a double play on AJ Pollock’s chopper.

The Angels failed to manufacture runs in the same fashion before a two-run rally in the eighth inning after Kershaw had handcuffed them for the first seven.

Kershaw was making his third start after beginning the season on the injured list with a back injury. He tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks in his debut. He stumbled in the second, allowing four runs on seven hits across 4 1/3 innings against the San Francisco Giants.

Friday resembled the first outing. His fastball averaged 92 mph — a strong indicator of success.

“I knew it was in there,” said Kershaw, whose fastball averaged under 91 mph in 2018 and 2019. “So I think that’s what’s frustrating the last couple of years. It’s been hard to figure out why it hasn’t been coming out the way I want it to. … I can’t pinpoint one specific thing but all the things that we tried, there were a lot of things that stuck. It is gratifying, for sure.”

Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws against the Angels.

Clayton Kershaw pitched seven innings of one-run, one-hit ball in leading the Dodgers to their NL-best 14th win.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Kershaw issued a walk to start the second inning but didn’t allow a hit until Rendon lofted a leadoff home run in the fifth. It was Rendon’s fifth homer of the season and fourth in four games.

The Angels, held to two walks and Rendon’s homer, mustered little else against Kershaw.

Kershaw’s performance dwarfed the six-inning effort from Sandoval, whose career-opening winless streak extended to 12 consecutive starts.

Besides the third-inning hiccup, Sandoval mostly cruised through his first five turns on the mound. He needed 59 pitches to get through five innings. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the first 20 batters he faced.

Then Turner drew a walk to lead off the sixth inning. Two batters later, Sandoval was throwing his head back in frustration.

Bellinger had sent his first homer of the night screaming into the right-field corner. Bellinger had grabbed hold of a high slider. None of the previous 16 sliders Sandoval offered the Dodgers had been put in play. Of 11 swings made against it, seven came up empty.

But Bellinger saw one he liked. He needed nothing else.

“It’s really easy to say don’t focus on the results,” Bellinger said. “When the results aren’t there, it’s frustrating. But I have felt really good lately and that’s positive.”

Three observations on the Angels

— Patrick Sandoval gave up six hits and five runs, four of them earned, in six-plus innings. The performance ended in the sixth loss of his career. His 12 consecutive starts without a win to begin his career is the longest streak in Angels history.

— As the Angels closed the gap in the eighth inning and scored two runs on back-to-back singles from Tommy La Stella and David Fletcher, prospect Jo Adell showed some progress. He drew the first major league walk in the 26th plate appearance of his young career.

— La Stella’s RBI hit in the eighth ended the Dodgers bullpen’s scoreless streak at 21 1/3 innings.

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