Manager Bruce Bochy can’t stroll through a mall without being approached by Giants fans. And all of them seem to be members of the Brandon Belt fan club.
After the hellos and platitudes, they often sneak in a “Hey, play the kid, will ya?"
So when Belt went 3 for 4 with a home run while serving as the designated hitter in Saturday’s Cactus League opener, Bochy couldn’t resist the urge to have a little fun, Comcast SportsNet reported.
“Boy, Belt’s been locked in, hasn’t he?” the manager said, grinning.
All kidding aside, Bochy acknowledges that Belt presents the Giants’ toughest call of the spring. Their roster, already stuffed with lefty bats, actually fits together easier if he starts the season in Triple-A Fresno. It means Aubrey Huff would play first base instead of left field, where he’d be a question mark.
But if Belt convinces the front office and coaching staff that he is ready to be an impact performer against major league pitching, they’ll have to pay their respects to that. Like all those Giants fans he meets, Bochy wants to put his best team on the field, too.
Right now, Bochy can’t say whether the Giants will be a better team on opening day with Belt or without him. That’s what they hope to find out in the next four weeks.
“He’s a good player. We know that,” Bochy said. “We’ll be talking about Brandon Belt quite a bit, what he can bring. He’s a guy who will probably be decided in the last part of the spring.”
Belt had three of the Giants’ nine hits in a 9-6 loss to Arizona. He tomahawked a single in the first inning off Arizona’s Josh Collmenter. He singled to right in the sixth against Ryan Budde. Then he pounded his homer over the right field fence off Yonata Ortega in the ninth. (It would’ve been off the bricks at AT&T Park, though.)
Bochy liked the fact that Belt was aggressive early in the count. He took a healthy cut at the first pitch he saw from Collmenter, swinging through it.
“He’s swinging well,” Bochy said. “Last spring, he swung the bat well. He came in ready to go.
“We want these guys to let it go when they get a pitch to hit, but lay off the tough pitches, too. The thing about Brandon, he knows what he needs to work on. But when he gets a good pitch, hey, let it go.”
That’s what Belt tried to do in the Dominican winter league and that’s what he plans to carry over.
“I’d rather be overaggressive and have to back off than be passive and have to dial it up,” he said. “Once you figure that stuff out, it doesn’t leave you. For the most part, you remember it.”
Belt remembers everything coming far too easily in 2010, when he hit .352 with a 1.075 OPS while zooming from Single-A San Jose to Double-A Richmond to Triple-A Fresno.
But he made a fairly stunning admission about his season-long hot streak that burst him into the elite prospects rankings.
“In 2010, even when I was hitting well, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing,” he said. “I was just hitting.”
He never had to dig his way out of a slump. So when that happened at various junctures in the big leagues last season, he didn’t have the experience to know what to do.
“I don’t think I took the time to figure out what was going on,” he said. “It was all so fast. I didn’t take the time to regroup.”
He said he did some of that thinking in the 10 days between the end of last season and his first game for Escogido in the Dominican.
Asked if he would rather be a bench player in the big leagues or a starter at Triple-A, Belt made another surprising comment. He said he’d rather play.
“That’s a tough decision,” he said. “We all want to be in the big leagues. But my main goal is to play every day. If I have to start in Fresno, that’s what I’ll do. Then my goal will be to produce enough to get back up here.”