San Francisco Giants

Giants’ Belt cleared after concussion, says he could pinch-hit

SAN FRANCISCO -- Asked if this weekend’s Giants-Dodgers series is one of the bigger meetings between the stories rivals in recent seasons, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said with a grin: "No, because we play again -- we’ll be talking about this again in a week."

True. But this weekend, at least, it’s about as significant as series get, with the Giants two games back of Los Angeles in the N.L. West and hosting the Dodgers for the final time in the regular season (the last meeting is in L.A.). The Giants have a chance to sweep their way back into first place for the first time since the Dodgers came into AT&T Park from July 25-27 and handed the home team a decisive three-game sweep.

"Sure, it’s a big series," Bochy acknowledged. "We’re excited about it, as you should be. This is the time of year to be playing games like this, it’s why you work so hard starting in spring training. We weren’t thinking about this until we got to this point, but now they are here, and we should have a great series."

The first pitching matchup is a good one -- two left-handers in Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Bochy crafted a right-handed-heavy lineup against Ryu, starting Joaquin Arias at first base and bumping Hunter Pence up to the cleanup spot. Pence in his career against Ryu is 9-for-21.

Arias, meanwhile, has 15 hits in his last 35 at-bats, part of the reason Bochy said he opted to give Arias a start rather than have Buster Posey play first base and put Andrew Susac behind the plate, as he has against left-handers recently. Bochy said he also reasoned that Posey has caught most of Bumgarner’s starts this season, so he felt better about keeping that battery together.

The full Giants lineup tonight against Ryu:

CF Pagan

2B Panik

C Posey

RF Pence

3B Sandoval

1B Arias

LF Blanco

SS Crawford

P Bumgarner

And the Dodgers’ lineup against Bumgarner:

CF Puig

2B Turner

1B Gonzalez

RF Kemp

SS Ramirez

LF Van Slyke

3B Uribe

C Ellis

P Ryu

* Brandon Belt was back wit the Giants this afternoon after being cleared yesterday for all baseball activities by concussion specialist Dr. Michael Collins. Belt said he was put through a rigorous series of physical tests in Pittsburgh and "I nailed it. I don’t have any problems right now, and they said they don’t anticipate it coming back."

Belt took swings in a batting cage this afternoon and "felt great," and was scheduled to hit with the Giants on the field. He said right now his main priority is getting back into baseball shape, but that "it’s not necessarily like spring training where I need tons of at-bats." In fact, Belt was asked if he feels he could hold is own against live pitching as a pinch hitter right now and said:

"I think I could absolutely do that. I’m not sure that’s what they’re looking to do right now -- I think the last time I heard, they’re looking to give me a couple days before they do that. But I do think I could come in and face some live pitching right now and do just fine."

So with expanded rosters, what’s to keep the Giants from activating Belt and just having him as an option either as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement while he gets back into shape? Bochy said it’s not something he would rule out.

"But you’d have to get that OK’d. It’d be a pretty quick move, considering he just got back from Pittsburgh," Bochy said. "But after he goes through his workout today, that’s what we’ll talk about."

Bottom line, Belt was in good spirits this afternoon and seems intent on contributing to the Giants’ stretch run. He stressed that he doesn’t anticipate another situation where he comes back and is saddled with recurring symptoms. Last time, he said, he didn’t go to Pittsburgh and go through the series of rigorous tests to get cleared, and also at that time he was battling a head cold and may have attributed some of his lingering concussion symptoms to the cold, leading him to come back "sooner than I should have."

"I’m telling them how I feel, letting them make the decisions," Belt said. "But I kind of want to get back out there as fast as I can. I think I was ready last time, I just had some difficulties with recurring symptoms. I think without that, I can do just fine."

* Bochy reiterated that Michael Morse likely won’t be available to help the Giants this weekend. Morse is recovering from an oblique strain and "took some swings today, but is probably two, three days away," Bochy said.

* Bumgarner needs just one strikeout to reach 200 for the season. It would be the first time for Bumgarner hitting that mark, and he would become just the fifth Giants left-hander ever with 200 or more strikeouts in a season, joining Cy Seymour (239 in 1898), Rube Marquard (237 in 1911), Ray Sadecki (206 in 1968) and Jonathan Sanchez (205 in 2010).

Bumgarner figures to have four more starts in the regular season, meaning he’d have to average 10 strikeouts per outing to match Seymour’s franchise-high total.

* With a win tonight, the Giants would pull to within one game of the Dodgers for the first time since Aug. 4. Game on.