EXTRA BAGGS: Belt rings into spring with a new attitude

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EXTRA BAGGS: Belt rings into spring with a new attitude

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon Belt didnt receive a World Series ring last season when his Giants teammates were awarded their baby blue boxes from Tiffany. But hes assembling quite a jewelry collection. And now its going international.Belt played six weeks for Escogido in the Dominican Republic earlier this winter. The club went on to win the Caribbean Series on Feb. 6. And Belt will get his piece of the prize.Its nothing new. Belt has more rings than Sonic the Hedgehog.He picked up an Arizona Fall League ring and a Cape Cod League ring. Even his wooden-bat showcase club in the Texas-Oklahoma collegiate league won its circuit. And lets not forget his ring from the 2010 San Jose Giants, who won the Cal League title.(Belt jokes that he never gets to wear any of them because his father ends up taking them and showing them off.)

Belt believes he picked up much more than a trinket in the Dominican. The Giants hoped playing in that frenzied environment would help their sometimes awkward Baby Giraffe play with a little more poise. Although Belt resisted the teams request at first, he came to realize it was a good opportunity and he ended up throwing himself into it.He said he felt more confident about his approach after competing well against some quality pitching. He stopped being pull conscious and let the ball travel a little deeper, where hes able to square it up and split the outfielders in either gap. He believes he is ready to carry that approach over into this season, too.As the Giants begin the spring, Buster Posey is the most important player in the clubhouse. He will be the most scrutinized of anyone in camp.But Belt is a key figure, too. No player could change his fortunes or impact how the roster is constituted more than he can. If he convinces the Giants that he is ready to be an impact performer, they could be forced to shuffle a lot of pieces (Aubrey Huff in left field? Melky Cabrera from left to right? Nate Schierholtz on the bench?) to carve out a regular spot for Belt at first base.Manager Bruce Bochy is certainly leaving the door open, mentioning that Belt, Huff and Brett Pill will see time at first base and left field."It's going to be competitive -- moreso than in earlier years," he said.To a large extent, the situation is out of Belts control. For example, suppose Poseys ankle doesnt respond well and he has to play more first base as a result. Not only would that take away opportunities for Belt at first base, but it also might necessitate a third catcher and the need for an additional roster spot.Ive covered enough spring training baseball to know: teams almost always act to protect their inventory when they decide who stays and who goes to Triple-A Fresno. So even a terrific spring might not win Belt a job if Huff has an equally impressive camp. If the choice for a roster spot comes down to Belt and Emmanuel Burriss, only Belt has minor league options remaining.But heres the key: Belt understands all this now. He doesnt plan to let his self esteem ebb and flow with every clue or every roster decision, as it did last year. He mentioned a conversation in the Dominincan with scouting director John Barr, who gave him a simple message: We believe in you. We know the kind of player you are and who you will be. He said those words made an impact.And listening to him speak in casual conversation, Belt did strike me as having a different edge in his voice and look in his eye. He spoke of feeling a sense of belonging, and if he starts to go into a tailspin at the plate, he knows its a matter of mechanics and not mentality.Like everything in life, its easier said than done. Those little blue boxes from Tiffany dont come easy, either.--Yes, Angel Villalona has a locker in the major league clubhouse. The former top prospect, who hasnt played in two years while facing a murder charge in the Dominican Republic, is due to report with position players. Major League Baseball removed Villalona from its restricted list after charges were dropped late last year.--In other locker news, Tim Lincecum took over the corner space that Barry Zito had inhabited since 2008. Zito held that spot ever since Barry Bonds left the scene, but said he felt too trapped in there.--The Bod Pod is no more.The training room device, which measures body fat percentage, made for some classic moments last spring. Jeremy Affeldt, who had bragged he could beat Brian Wilson in a race up Camelback Mountain, was forced to backtrack twice as fast. When he donned his shower cap and skivvies and jumped in the bubble-like contraption, his body fat percentage ended up higher than manager Bruce Bochys measurement.Yeah, I beat out a few guys, said a grinning Bochy, remembering he did better than Mark DeRosa, too.But the Bod Pod did not make a return this spring. Maybe Affeldt paid to make it disappear."--It was a pretty typical reporting day for pitchers and catchers, who simply have to check in with staff and schedule a physical. There were a fair amount of position players here, too. Belt, Brandon Crawford and Nate Schierholtz were hitting in the cage before 8 a.m. Emmanuel Burriss is here, too. He spent all offseason working out in San Francisco -- hopefully on his flexibility, as hell probably be asked to play five or six positions this spring.

Early offense, six strong from Cueto lift Giants past Braves in finale

Early offense, six strong from Cueto lift Giants past Braves in finale

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- The blisters on Johnny Cueto's middle and index fingers that limited his effectiveness in his last few starts haven't yet completely healed.

But the two-time All-Star is learning to pitch with them.

Cueto threw six strong innings and Brandon Crawford drove in three runs as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Atlanta Braves 7-1 on Sunday.

Cueto (5-4) bounced back from his roughest stretch as a Giant. He was 0-3 with a 4.33 ERA in his previous four starts.

"They're not bothering me like they were before," Cueto said through a translator. "I'm just getting used to it but I have to continue pitching until they get better."

The Giants won their third straight home series and posted their 11th victory in 18 games overall.

Crawford's two-run single highlighted a four-run second against R.A. Dickey (3-4) that made it 6-0.

Matt Kemp had three hits for Atlanta. But the Braves couldn't get much going against Cueto, who allowed one run on six hits and a walk. Cueto struck out eight, including five in a row at one point.

"He did what he needed to do to get us out," Kemp said. "We had chances to score runs and we didn't. I think in this series we really didn't do a good score of scoring runs."

Dickey allowed a season-high seven runs (six earned) on six hits and five walks in six innings.

"This can be a challenging place to throw because of the wind because it swirls so much," Dickey said.

Eduardo Nunez and Gorkys Hernandez each had two hits for the Giants. Joe Panik tripled to start the second-inning burst.

Cueto had two productive at-bats, bunting a runner to second in the second inning and driving in a run with a sacrifice fly in the third.

"It's always nice to have a lead and I thought Johnny was the sharpest he'd been this year," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "Hopefully it's something he can build on. The changeup was working really well and his command of the fastball was really good."

Posey was 0 for 2 with two walks. He hasn't struck out in 55 consecutive plate appearances.

FUN FACTOR:
The Giants scored the game's first run when Nunez came around from third when a knuckleball glanced off catcher Kurt Suzuki glove in the bottom of the first. The play was ruled a passed ball. Asked if he had any empathy for the plight of his counterpart, Posey said "Yes, no question. It's not fun to hit, it doesn't look fun to catch, either."

FANCY FIELDING:
Hernandez made a diving catch in the gap in left-center robbing Emilio Bonifacio of an extra-base hit with one out in the seventh inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM:
Braves: 2B Brandon Phillips left in the fifth for pinch-hitter Jace Peterson. Phillips fouled a ball off his foot in his last at-bat in the third.

Giants: LHP Madison Bumgarner will start his throwing program on Friday, manager Bruce Bochy said. Bumgarner will start out playing catch and make five rehab starts. The 2014 World Series MVP suffered a separated left shoulder in a dirt biking accident. "The progress is happening," Bochy said. "I think he sees light at the end of the tunnel." ... Slumping rookie INF Christian Arroyo was out of the lineup on Sunday and his playing status appears uncertain. Arroyo, who turns 22 on Tuesday, is 0 for 19 in his last five games. "I'll talk to him, about what his situation is," Bochy said. "I'm definitely planning on giving him a couple of days" off.

UP NEXT:
Braves: RHP Julio Teheran will make his first career start against the Angels in Anaheim on Monday. He is 3-9 with a 5.63 ERA in 15 career interleague starts.

Giants: LHP Matt Moore will face the Nationals for the second time in his career. He was with Tampa Bay when he gave up two runs in five innings against Washington in 2012.

Giants lineup: Posey catching, Nunez at third base against Braves

Giants lineup: Posey catching, Nunez at third base against Braves

The Giants look to win two straight against the Braves and Bruce Bochy has made a few changes to the lineup Sunday.

Atlanta Braves (21-26)

1. Ender Inciarte (L) CF
2. Brandon Phillips (R) 2B
3. Nick Markakis (L) RF
4. Matt Kemp (R) LF
5. Matt Adams (L) 1B
6. Kurt Suzuki (R) C
7. Rio Ruiz (L) 3B
8. Dansby Swanson (R) SS
9. R.A. Dickey (R) P

San Francisco Giants (21-30)

1. Denard Span (L) CF
2. Eduardo Nunez (R) 3B
3. Brandon Belt (L) 1B
4. Buster Posey (R) C
5. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
6. Justin Ruggiano (R) RF
7. Joe Panik (L) 2B
8. Gorkys Hernandez (R) LF
9. Johnny Cueto (R) P