The last time Zach McKinstry made an MLB appearance before his oblique strain on April 20, the Dodgers were in control of the National League West with a 14-4 record. The Giants were in second place at 11-6, and the Padres were in third, hovering right around the .500 mark at 10-9.
To say that things have changed over the last four weeks would be an understatement.
At the time, McKinstry was slashing .296/.328/.556 with three homers and five doubles, sitting atop the team lead with 14 RBI. His defensive versatility played huge, as he appeared in 10 games in right field, four games in left, one game at third base, and six games at second. What’s more, his ability to hit anywhere in the lineup while making consistent contact was vital in the Los Angeles small-ball game.
Cody Bellinger hit the shelf much sooner than McKinstry. Just four games into the season, Bellinger was diagnosed with a contusion after being spiked in the shin, but scans later revealed a hairline fracture to his fibula. Accordingly, his playing status changed from day to day to being out for several months.
Before his injury, Bellinger had gone 4-for-19 on the year, making a little noise with an RBI double in the season opener against the Rockies, while raking a triple in the second game. Nevertheless, for as much firepower as the Los Angeles batting order can offer, the team probably misses Bellinger most for his defensive skills. Since his absence, the Dodgers have used all four of Chris Taylor, Mookie Betts, DJ Peters, and AJ Pollock in centerfield.
Once believed to be the most potent offense in the majors, the Dodgers have since settled in with a .246 team batting average, which is good enough for eighth in the majors. After being ranked near the top of the league in homers the past several seasons, they have hit just 48 long balls so far this year, ranking them 17th in the majors, 14 blasts behind the league-leading Braves.
Inching closer to their respective MLB returns, there’s no question that both McKinstry and Bellinger will make positive differences to the team, from chemistry to tighter defense to a potentially more threatening batting order.
With a healthy Pollock in left field, an outfield of Bellinger, Betts, and Pollock is perhaps one of the premiere units in baseball, both from an offensive and defensive perspective.
Recent reports from the team indicate that McKinstry could join Triple-A Oklahoma City for a rehab stint before the weekend, with Bellinger not being too far behind. Conceivably, McKinstry could return to the big league squad before the end of the month.
“I don’t know the dates exactly, but more optimistic that Zach would arrive before Cody,” manager Dave Roberts said on Tuesday. “Just because Cody has been out much longer.”
To fill in the holes, the Dodgers have recalled players like Peters, Sheldon Neuse, and Luke Raley. Recently, the team also acquired utilityman Yoshi Tsutsugo, who is expected to see most of his action in left field and third base.
All four of the above-mentioned players have options remaining on their contracts, so creating roster space for both McKinstry and Bellinger should not be problematic from an administrative angle.
After having lost 15 of 20 games at one point, the Dodgers have won seven of their last nine contests. Entering Wednesday’s game against Arizona, they currently sit in third place in the division, an even two games behind the Giants for first place.