San Francisco Giants

Belt, Maxwell stand out as Giants drop both halves of split-squad doubleheader

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon Belt could serve as the poster child for why major-league players don’t get overexcited about spring training statistics. In 2013, Belt hit .410 with eight home runs in the Cactus League but got sick at the start of the season and hit .235 in April. Last year, Belt batted .246 with no homers in the spring, then hit seven homers in the first month of the regular season.

So while you many not tout Belt’s spring average (.435) or the fact that he hit his second home run Saturday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, it is worth noting that Belt squared up two balls on the nose -- a 2-0 pitch in the first inning for a two-run homer and another in the sixth for a triple to right-center.

"Belt looks good," manager Bruce Bochy said after the Giants’ 5-2 loss at Salt River Fields. "He like the Cactus League, I’ll say that."

Joking aside, the question of where the power will come from in the Giants’ lineup this season may be easiest answered by the player who appeared on his way to a big offensive year in 2014 before injuries got in the way. Belt was slugging .519 with nine home runs as of May 7 last year, but two days later had his thumb broken by an inside pitch. He also missed time due to a concussion and hit just three homers the rest of the regular season.

The Giants are hoping for a full, healthy season from Belt, but even so they don’t have many power threats in a lineup that lost Pablo Sandoval to free agency and added Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki, who combined to hit five home runs last year. Hunter Pence’s absence to start the season only exaggerates that absence.

They could add one if Justin Maxwell were to make the opening day roster -- Maxwell, competing for an outfield job, has 34 homers in 808 career major-league at-bats and just missed one to right-center Saturday night. Maxwell had a slow start to spring but went 2-for-4 on Saturday with a triple, and Bochy said his at-bats have looked better lately.

"Couple really good at-bats today, looks like he’s getting more comfortable, getting his timing out there," Bochy said of the 31-year-old outfielder. "He’s been making better contact the last three, four games."

Maxwell played in 20 games for the Kansas City Royals last season but spent most of an injury-shortened year at Triple-A Omaha, where he batted .285 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in 56 games. With Pence shelved by a fractured forearm, Maxwell has a shot at an opening day roster spot if he can beat out players like Juan Perez, Jarrett Parker and Gary Brown, none of whom have laid claim to the backup outfielder job. Maxwell also offers more power in a right-handed bat that could share time with Gregor Blanco.

* A rough third inning didn’t deter Ryan Vogelsong from feeling good about his outing Saturday night. Vogelsong retired six of his first seven batters before allowing three runs in the third. All three scored after a throwing error by third baseman Adam Duvall that would have been the second out of the inning.

Vogelsong said he wasn’t rattled by the error but he did leave a couple of breaking balls up in the inning, including one to cleanup hitter Mark Trumbo, who lined it up the middle for a two-run single.

"Other than those two breaking balls, I’m pretty happy with the way it went," Vogelsong said.

Vogelsong said his other three pitches were good and his cutter was actually moving so much he wasn’t sure where to start it for a strike. He left with two outs in the third, but said he could have stayed in and that stamina-wise he feels on track for mid-March.

"I thought he threw fairly well there," Bochy said. "The error didn’t help out the cuase in that inning … but man, he was right there, pitches could have gone either way on some of those calls. I though he was pretty sharp, really."

Vogelsong also expended a little extra energy running the bases after lining a single to right off Chase Anderson in the second.

"He threw it in the loop," Vogelsong said. "I’ve got one swing and he threw it right in it."

* Left-handed reliever Steven Okert came in for one batter in the seventh and struck Evan Marzilli out swinging. Okert, who’s allowed one earned run in four spring appearances, has a funky delivery from the left side and has made an impression on the Giants’ staff.

"This kid’s going to be all right," Bochy said. "I wouldn’t be surprised to see him at some point. He’s got good stuff, throws strikes, is tough on lefties. And he can face righties, so he can give you an inning-plus."

* The Giants lost both halves of their split-squad day-night doubleheader by identical scores of 5-2. In fact, in both games they scored twice in the first inning and didn’t push across another run.

Some of the spring averages for the regulars don’t look good: Nori Aoki (.136), Joe Panik (.130), Angel Pagan (.125), even Buster Posey (.167). On the other hand, McGehee had two hits in the afternoon game and is now batting .500 for the spring, Belt is hot, Gregor Blanco is 5-for-16 and Matt Duffy is hitting .348 in a push not to be forgotten in the battle for a backup infield spot.

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

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