SAN FRANCISCO – Brandon Belt's lone hitting streak longer than his current one, which reached seven games in the Giants' 10-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, came last year, when the first baseman batted .441 over an 11-game stretch in mid-June.
That was followed by one of the most trying months of Belt's career, as he hit just .186 in July – only to rebound in August and post a .329 average the rest of the season. So far, it is a pattern repeating in 2013.
Belt had his worst month at the plate in July, hitting .225. He received several days off at the end of the month to regroup mentally and make two adjustments in the batter's box, and he's become the Giants' hottest hitter since Aug. 1.
He drove in the Giants' first run Sunday with a first-inning double to left-center to score Marco Scutaro. It was his seventh extra-base hit and seventh RBI in August – more than he had last month. Belt scored on Hunter Pence's double for a 2-0 lead that held until the seventh, when J.J. Hardy hit a two-run homer off Matt Cain that put the Orioles ahead 3-2 before they piled on against the Giants' bullpen.
Pence said Saturday it seems as if Belt, who is hitting .438 (14 for 32) in August, has "that vibe where anytime he comes to bat you feel like he's going to hit it hard" – something that can't be said for most of the Giants' lineup right now.
It speaks to the fickle nature of hitting that Belt was asked about his success of late and said while the changes – realigning his hands and moving back in the batter's box – seem to be paying off, the biggest difference is more intangible.
"A lot of hitting is just how you feel," Belt said. "Whatever happened with those changes as soon as I made them, I kind of started feeling like I did in spring training (when he hit .410). And I was able to hold that feeling for a while."
The implication is the feeling can disappear just as quickly, as it has for Belt before. For now, the Giants are confident enough in Belt that Sunday marked his fifth game in a row batting third or fourth in the lineup – something he'd done once in 244 prior starts. Manager Bruce Bochy, though, said the hope is this time the changes made to Belt's swing will help stabilize the streaky 25-year-old.
"We think with the changes he's made, it's going to allow him to be more consistent over the course of a season, or even a month," Bochy said.
"It's freed him up, and I think more important is he's comfortable with it. Sometimes it takes a little while when you make a change, but he's adapted so well with it, I think now it's just part of him where he doesn't feel like he's making a change up there."
Belt agreed that while he occasionally has had games this season feeling comfortable at the plate, it's "just a matter of being able to keep it going for a long period of time.
"You try to search for something and make adjustments, whatever you can, to kind of find the consistency," he said. "I'm hoping that this is what I have right now."
Belt went hitless in his final three at-bats Sunday, as the Giants were held scoreless over the final eight innings by Orioles right-hander Bud Norris and four relievers. Cain retired 15 of the first 16 hitters he faced before allowing a leadoff triple in the sixth to Brian Roberts, who scored on Nate McLouth's one-out single.
Cain got out of the sixth without further damage. But after Chris Davis doubled over center fielder Gregor Blanco leading off the seventh, he ran a fastball up and in to Hardy, who hit a towering fly ball to left that cleared the wall for his 21st homer, giving the Orioles the lead.
"We score two runs early, and then it's like we just kind of sit on it and think that's all we need," said shortstop Brandon Crawford. "A lot of times with our pitchers, it is. But we need to pile on."
Baltimore scored four times in the eighth, starting when reliever Jose Mijares walked McLouth leading off the inning and committed a throwing error on Manny Machado's bunt single, and three in the ninth on Adam Jones' homer, his 24th, off erstwhile starter Barry Zito.
Zito has made two appearances since moving to the bullpen and allowed five runs and six hits, including two homers, in two innings.
Pagan update – Bochy said center fielder Angel Pagan is "doing well" in his Arizona rehabilitation from hamstring tendon surgery and getting closer to beginning a minor-league rehab assignment, which could allow Pagan to rejoin the Giants in September.
Pagan last played May 25, when he hit an inside-the-park home run to beat the Colorado Rockies. Bochy said that while he thinks it's important for Pagan to play again this year and put to rest any doubts about his leg following surgery, the Giants won't rush Pagan back, especially with a playoff run highly unlikely.
"He's not going to play unless we think he's 100 percent," Bochy said. "He's a guy that will take the full rehab."