Giants' Belt arrives in Fresno with 'clear head'

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Giants' Belt arrives in Fresno with 'clear head'

April 25, 2011
URBAN ARCHIVEGIANTS PAGE GIANTS VIDEOA'S PAGE A'S VIDEOMychael UrbanCSNBayArea.com

When a player is sent down from the big leagues, he has 72 hours to report to his new minor-league team.High-profile prospect Brandon Belt, bounced from the bigs before the Giants took on the host Rockies on Wednesday in Colorado, took full advantage of the rule and is glad that he did."I think it helped taking a few days off so I could clear my head," Belt told CSNBayArea.com Monday morning from Fresno via cell phone.Told by San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy on his 23rd birthday that his .192 batting average through 17 games had earned him a trip to Triple-A Fresno, Belt decided slow down the whirlwind that has been his life.
Since tearing through the Giants' system last season, he was sent to the prestigious Arizona Fall League and helped the Scottsdale Scorpion win the AFL championship, got married during the offseason, reported to big-league camp as the Next Best Thing, and displaced incumbent first baseman Aubrey Huff as the starter for Opening Day against the Dodgers.Just as quickly, he fell into a slump that prompted the demotion. It was time to take a step back and breathe.So instead of rushing to Tucson, Ariz., where the Fresno Grizzlies were wrapping up a road trip with games Thursday and Friday, Belt took a pass and took his time. After spending Thursday getting settled in for what he hopes is a short-term stay in the San Joaquin Valley, he made his way over to the Grizzlies' Chukchansi Park for a low-key round of batting practice as Fresno Pacific infield coach Matt Souza and Central High skipper Brad Fontes took turns firing away at the phenom.Belt's goals? "Start from the basics and getting my swing right," he said. So far, so good. In his 2011 debut for Fresno, Belt on Saturday started in left field, batted in the cleanup spot and crushed a two-out, two-run homer in his first at-bat.The pitch he hit? Pretty much the same one that sent him to Fresno in the first place. It was an inside fastball thrown by Micah Owings, who has more than 60 big-league starts on his resume."You don't make it to the big leagues as fast as he did if you can't hit the inside fastball," Grizzlies manager Steve Decker told the Fresno Bee. "He can hit it. He's just got to know when to look for it."Belt, already known for his tremendous plate discipline, had worked the count full before his home run off Owings, and he walked later in the game.
On Sunday, he was moved up to the No. 3 spot in the order and dropped an RBI double just inside the right-field line in the first inning. He added an RBI single later and entered Monday's home game against the Reno Aces having gone 3-for-7 with four RBIs since that birthday bummer with Bochy."I'm doing all right," Belt said.In addition to the adjustments that Belt is trying to make at the plate, he's adjusting back to life in the outfield. Decker said that Belt, who saw all of his playing time with the Giants at first base while Huff endured some early struggles in the outfield, said Belt will play only a game or two a week at first base while fellow prospect Brett Pill, who was batting .385 through Sunday, and Travis Ishikawa, who hit a grand slam Sunday to help boost his average to .236, share the rest of the time at the position.That's fine with Belt, who mostly played first base and pitched at the University of Texas but spent plenty of time in the outfield before matriculating to Austin, Tex. Once he gets used to reading balls off the bat again, he figures, it'll be like riding a bike."I don't feel too bad out there," Belt said. "Obviously there's a few kinks I need to sort out, but so far it's going pretty well. The last time I played out there regularly was in high school."

A's spring training update Day 6: Davis savors winter in Oakland

A's spring training update Day 6: Davis savors winter in Oakland

MESA, Ariz. — Khris Davis enjoyed quite an offseason travel itinerary, checking out Toronto, taking in the beaches of Hawaii and dining on lobster in Belize.

However, it was the time spent in his adopted hometown of Oakland that most struck a chord with the A’s left fielder. After finishing his first season with the A’s, Davis followed through on his plan to make his offseason home in Oakland, and he was glad he did.

“I got to just feel the heart of the city,” he said upon arriving at camp Sunday. “That was basically the purpose of why I was there. … I wanted to feel Oakland. I love it, honestly. I love the city.”

He trained at Dogtown Athletic, a gym in West Oakland. He took part in the A’s holiday party for kids at the Oakland Zoo, joined by A’s Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, who grew up in the city.

“Just to feel these kids’ happiness,” Davis said. “They didn’t look at me as a baseball player. They just looked at me as a role model kind of.”

It should be music to the ears of A’s fans that the team’s most dangerous hitter has a love affair with the city he plays in. If the A’s ever entertained the idea of trying to sign Davis to a multi-year extension, and that’s purely hypothetical here, it would help that Davis feels comfortable in his surroundings.

Even when he described Oakland in edgy terms, such as when he said it “has its dark side,” he seemed to find it endearing.

In return, Davis felt the love from the fan base in 2016, hitting a career-high 42 homers with a team-best 102 RBI. That was despite the awful start he got off to, hitting .143 and mustering just one RBI over his first 12 games.

Obviously, any chances the A’s have of improving last year’s American League-worst offense rely on the 29-year-old Davis having another big year. But over-analysis is one thing he tries to avoid.

“I don’t want to get caught up in last year — the slow start and the strong finish, whatever,” he said. “However it was, I’m just ready to do this year.”

Davis decided to back out of his plan to play for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, saying his main priority was preparing for his A’s season.

“My main focus is to perform for the organization,” he said. “I feel like I want to get off on the right foot this year.”

NOTEWORTHY: Heavy showers continued to pelt Mesa on Sunday, spoiling the A’s first full-squad workout. The hitters were relegated to swinging in the cages and playing catch, while pitchers were scheduled for a day off from throwing on the mound anyway.

“If ever there was a day, at least for the pitchers, that you don’t need to (work out), it’s today,” manager Bob Melvin said. “But when you have everybody there on the first day, you wanna get out on the field and do everything. Hopefully we can incorporate everything tomorrow.”

The A’s have a whopping 70 players in camp, more than in any other spring Melvin can remember as a big league manager. He addressed the full team in a meeting Sunday morning.

His message?

“We’re gonna have to outwork, out-hustle everybody like we have in the past,” he said, “and get back to playing the game with the same tenacity that we did a couple years ago.”

FAMILIAR FACE: Longtime A’s second baseman Mark Ellis is back for the second year in a row as a spring infield instructor. The plan is for Ellis to spend a week with the team now, then another week later in camp.

“I’ll take Mark Ellis as many days as I can have him,” Melvin said.

LIGHTER SIDE: Nursing his broken right foot, starting pitcher Daniel Mengden has been making his way through the clubhouse on a knee scooter in order to keep pressure off his foot.

Apparently, it looks more fun than it really is.

“I contribute to society Friday, when I can start walking again,” Mengden quipped.

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days.