Brandon Belt last played for the Giants in a 3-1 win over the Dodgers on May 9, after which San Francisco had a two-game lead in the National League West. While recovering from a broken left thumb, Belt has since watched that lead swell to 91/2 games June 8 – and then vanish completely as the Giants went 10-16 in June and fell into second place Monday night when Los Angeles beat Cleveland 1-0.
Seeing the Giants’ recent struggles, particularly on offense, Belt said he is itching to get back to contributing at the major-league level.
“I think Angel (Pagan) would say the same thing. We both want to get back out there, because we know when we have a healthy team and a full team, we have a very good team,” Belt said.
“But,” he added, “I wanted to get back out there when they were playing well, because it looked like they were having so much fun. I’d really just like to get back out there.”
The first baseman is getting closer, playing his fifth minor-league rehab game Monday night against the River Cats at Raley Field. In the first four, two at Class-A San Jose and two at Triple-A Fresno, Belt posted encouraging numbers at the plate, going 7 for 14 with two home runs, two doubles and three RBIs.
In his first at-bat Monday for Fresno, Belt hit a 1-2 pitch from right-hander Dan Straily for a homer into the visiting bullpen in right-center. Still, Belt said before the game he had not talked with the Giants about possibly returning before his original target date of Friday, when they begin a three-game series in San Diego.
“My timing’s just a tad bit off still; I’d like to get that just a little bit better,” Belt said. “If they brought me up today, I feel like I would be OK up there. But it’s the big leagues, and I want to be better than OK.”
Giants manager Bruce Bochy also stressed last week the fine line between wanting to get Belt back in the lineup and making sure he’s ready. Belt was batting .264 with nine home runs in 129 at-bats at the time of his injury, suffered when he was hit by a pitch from Dodgers left-hander Paul Maholm.
Belt said he’s “actually seeing the ball all right” since beginning rehab games, and that as his numbers indicate, “When I’m hitting balls, I’m hitting them solid.”
“I’m squaring them up, and that’s what I wanted when I came back,” Belt said. “I want to stay inside the strike zone and get something I can hit hard, and if I can do that I know I’m pretty close to being ready.”
Defense was also going to be an important box for Belt to check as he rebuilds strength in his throwing hand and shoulder. He made his second start in the field Monday and said of his hand: “Everything feels pretty good.”
“It doesn’t bother me, doesn’t hurt, I’m able to grip the ball just fine,” he said. “I don’t have to think about it or anything – it just comes naturally.”
When Belt returns, he’ll carry newly acquired status as a folk hero. Belt made headlines last Friday when he hit a home run in San Jose – after reportedly promising a 12-year-old cancer survivor before the game that he’d do so. He said Monday that’s how it happened, “for the most part.”
“I was talking to this girl and said, ‘I’m going to try to hit you a home run tonight,’ ” Belt said. “And then I was like, man, maybe I’m being a little too greedy here. So then I said, ‘Maybe a single will do.’
“But I ended up hitting a home run anyway. And I was super excited I could do that for her, because she seemed to love it.”
Belt reportedly later signed the ball for Lyndsey Dworkin, and is arranging for Dworkin and her family to attend an upcoming Giants game. The story has spawned comparisons of Belt to Babe Ruth, which Belt reacted to Monday with a modest grin.
“I’m definitely no Babe Ruth. I’m not a person that can get up there and say, ‘I’m going to hit a home run tonight and do it,’ ” Belt said. “But it seems like she was my good-luck charm. And I told her that.”