SAN FRANCISCO – Bruce Bochy doesn't seem like he'd make a good hitting coach. He retired with a .239 average over parts of nine major league seasons.
But he also was a catcher who strategized on how to get the ball past a hitter’s bat. And he’s been a manager for 18 years, so he knows a little bit about managing personalities as well as maintaining a swing.
Every once on awhile, Bochy will take the baton from his hitting coaches and work individually with a struggling player. That’s what he did Monday afternoon, working intensely with struggling first baseman Brandon Belt in early batting practice.
There’s no question that Belt has hit the skids. It’s no longer just a slow start or a small sample size. He’s hitting .183, and although he’s usually a reliable on-base guy, his OBP is just .227.
Since his three-hit game April 16 at Miller Park, Belt is in a 2-for-13 funk that includes six strikeouts.
The Giants finally got a home run from Buster Posey on Sunday, but their offense won’t get fully on track until they can start to see some production from first base. Right now, only the Giants and Seattle Mariners do not have a home run from their first basemen. And the Giants’ .503 OPS from the position is last in the NL (and third lowest in the game, ahead of only the Blue Jays and White Sox).
Belt received another day off against a left-hander on Monday, with Joaquin Arias starting at first base. It’s possible Belt will rest again on Tuesday, with lefty Patrick Corbin scheduled to take the mound for Arizona.
I don’t think you’re seeing a player in the manager’s doghouse. Rather, I think you’re seeing a manager step in to prevent one of his everyday guys from digging himself in a hole so deep that he cannot climb out of it.
“Brandon’s trying to get his timing back,” Bochy said of Belt, who led the Cactus League with seven home runs. “We’re trying to quiet down a few things. His swing is fine. He gets where he’s getting himself out. There’s probably too much movement and I’ll leave it at that.”
Belt is an unorthodox hitter, but he starts to get in trouble when he drifts forward too much as the ball is being delivered. He ends up on his front foot and he tries to “catch” the ball in a certain spot, instead of just letting it come off his bat. As a result, his bat is in and out of the zone too quickly. (Ever wonder how hitters are able to use the whole field? One key is to keep your bat in the zone as long as possible.)
Drifting also means that Belt’s head is moving. That’s a sure way to have trouble seeing the ball.
Bochy has seen this before.
“There’s a tendency to add movement when you’re struggling to get base hits,” Bochy said. “You have to let your swing work instead of your body.”
This is a good day for a struggling hitter to be in the lineup. It’s one of those warm nights we see every now and then at AT&T Park. Both pitchers, Wade Miley and Ryan Vogelsong, would do well to keep the ball down.
Vogelsong did a better job of that in his last outing at Miller Park, when he threw his first quality start in three tries. The time before that, at Wrigley Field, the Cubs hit just five balls on the ground and 16 in the air. That’s now where Vogelsong wants to dwell, even in a pitcher’s park. A good one against the Diamondbacks would generate some personal momentum, and get this season series off to a good start against a dangerous opponent.
The Giants are 8-1 against the NL West thus far, by the way.
I saw Cody Ross briefly before batting practice and he told me he got the royal treatment on his way into the ballpark. He’s been looking forward to this day for a long time. It’s his first visit here as a visiting player since he left as a free agent after the 2011 season.
Ross said in spring training that he’d love to follow the example that Pat Burrell set when he went to Philly for the first time as a visitor: Soak up the cheers, hit a home run in your first trip, then lavish in the boos the rest of the time.
First base coach Roberto Kelly is back in Panama attending a graduation. So Shawon Dunston will be directing traffic in the box. I hope someone attached one of those child cords to his belt, just in case he can’t resist the temptation to start running between the lines again.