Giants manager Bruce Bochy said his advice to Michael Morse on Monday, ahead of Morse’s first start at first base since a Paul Maholm fastball sidelined Brandon Belt for at least the next six weeks with a broken thumb, was: “Just go out there and enjoy it.”
At least during batting practice, it seemed debatable whether that really needed to be said. The gregarious Morse, who earlier reminded reporters he broke into the majors as a shortstop, displayed a touch of panache while taking grounders at first and turning 3-6-3 double plays, zipping sidearm throws to second base and, after a few return throws from shortstop Ehire Adrianza, pumping his right fist above his head.
The infield will mostly be Morse’s home in the coming weeks, Bochy said, as the Giants on Monday began a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves – their first full series without Belt, who is scheduled to have surgery today. Belt will have two pins installed in his left thumb, and the Giants anticipate he’ll be out at least six weeks – four before the pins are removed, then however long it takes him to get back into playing shape.
Until then, Bochy said, it’ll be mostly Morse at first with an occasional start for Buster Posey and possibly Hector Sanchez. Left field will be split between Gregor Blanco and Tyler Colvin on most days.
How the Giants replace Belt’s offense, meanwhile, remains to be seen. Despite an awful slump at the end of April, Belt was batting .264 with a team-high nine home runs and 18 RBIs, mostly from the middle of the order.
Bochy on Monday acknowledged an injury at a similar time last year to another key player – Angel Pagan – factored heavily into the Giants’ downward spiral the rest of the summer. “But we also have shown a history of bouncing back,” he said, “like when we lost Melky (Cabrera to a drug suspension in 2012).
“These guys found a way to turn it up a notch, and that’s what has to happen,” Bochy said. “The great thing about this club, they don’t ever dwell on what’s happened.”
The recent trip indicated as much – the Giants went 7-3 against Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, all 2013 playoff teams, and won the final game Sunday against the Dodgers after losing a two-run lead in the ninth. The Giants entered Monday’s game tied for the National League’s best record (24-14) with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Shrugging off the blown late lead Sunday, especially with the loss of Belt still so fresh, had Bochy commending his team’s “resilience” and “heart and determination” Monday. Reliever Javier Lopez, though, said the game that “spoke volumes” to him was the Giants’ 13-inning, 11-10 win their first night in Pittsburgh after they trailed 8-2.
“I think that just shows that we really do take on that persona of playing until the last out is made in the game,” Lopez said. “Since I’ve been here, that’s one of the greatest wins I’ve seen us have.
“We’re starting to get that feeling we kind of had when we’ve been good before, where it’s not just one guy we’re relying on. It’s a new guy every night. And that’s something that’s kind of exciting for this club.”
It would certainly bode well for dealing with the absence of Belt, who was in the clubhouse Monday afternoon with a sizable cast on his left hand. Belt said he didn’t know the extent of the injury immediately after Maholm’s pitch hit him Friday night, but he “knew it wasn’t good.” He said it was too soon to say whether he thinks he’ll be back in six weeks, adding, “We’ll know more after they take the pins out.”
“It’s a little frustrating,” said Belt, who goes on the disabled list for the second time in his career. “I had a week there where I wasn’t going great, but I was coming out of that, and then this happens. But I tried to get out of the way (of the pitch), and I can’t really control what happened, so you just kind of try to make the best of it.”
Morse, meanwhile, said he hopes to get more comfortable at first base with more work in the coming weeks.
“I’m not trying to take anybody’s position or anything,” he said. “I’m just trying to fill in until the big guy’s healthy.”
With Morse at first base, Colvin got the start in left field Monday night and helped get the Belt-less age at AT&T Park off to an auspicious start. In his first home at-bat as a Giant, Colvin turned on a 1-1 pitch from Braves right-hander Gavin Floyd in the second inning, hitting it into McCovey Cove for a home run and a 1-0 Giants lead.